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On the campaign trail with Sam for Civics

GISBORNE law student Samantha Wood has taken her campaign for civics education to the politicians.

Not satisfied with promoting civics on her website while at Victoria University and speaking to students in Gisborne during the current holiday break, she directly questioned candidates at the Holy Trinity debate on Wednesday.

She also plans to launch an East Coast Candidate Profile page on her www.projectcivicsnz.com website.

“I asked the candidates to supply some information on themselves and two or three key policies that particularly effect youth.

“I’m hoping that this content will go live on Sunday.”

Several of the candidates thanked or congratulated Ms Wood on her work.

Ms Wood, a second year student, said her background in debating and two years as the student representative on the Campion College Board of Trustees influenced her decision to study law and politics.

She told the candidates that despite being a interested and engaged young Kiwi, it was only at university that she learned that New Zealand did, in fact, have a constitution.

She told the Herald that it seemed so fundamental and key to being a citizen of New Zealand.

“It got me thinking for the first time what a shame it was that most people only learn about civics through tertiary courses.

“I got the idea for this ProjectCivicsNZ in my public law lecture earlier this year.

“Sir Geoffrey Palmer was the guest lecturer and he was talking about the New Zealand Constitution - specifically, his campaign to make it a written document - currently it is ‘unwritten’.

‘‘We are one of only three countries in the world who has a Constitution like this, the others are England and Israel. “His passion and love for the topic just floored me.

“It really sparked me into action.”

Ms Wood has delivered presentations at Campion and Lytton High School this week and will speak to Tolaga Bay Area School students next week.

“I am in talks with other schools.”

Ms Wood said the Campion students liked the interactive content of her presentation, but “I thought I talked too much at the start”.

“I tweaked it for Lytton and left much of my argument - that voting is a habit or duty - to the end.

“I got good engagement from both schools.”

School debateMs Wood hopes to stage a “friendly” candidates' debate during school hours at one of the secondary schools.

Planning is still underway but Ms Woods hopes it will be staged in the week before election day on September 23.

Ms Wood continues to work on her website which is currently focused on the general election.

“There are lessons on Voting, MMP as well as policy breakdowns.

“After the election, I will release other lessons, like the ‘Constitution’ and local government.

“This is designed so anyone can go and get the basics and go deeper if they want.

“I am also developing resources that are downloadable - lesson plans, content and activities - for teachers to use so they can teach their own students what they need to know.

“All these resources will be free, but a donation would be appreciated.

“I want to make it as easy as possible for people to learn what they need to know, all in one place.

Ms Wood said Kiwi’s could be quite apathetic at times.

“Our democracy depends on a level of engagement that we may not be able to get in the future.

“I am confident that eventually, we will get civics education in schools.

“One of my goals for the project next year is to lobby the Government to do so. In the meantime, I’ll do it myself.”

Civics for schoolsAt the Holy Trinity debate, Ms Wood asked candidates whether they believed civics should be taught in schools, and if they had ever considered electronic voting.

Lesley Immink, candidate for The Opportunities Party, said her party was ‘‘absolutely committed” to having civics education in schools.

“We have to get our young people engaged and voting.”

Julian Tilley, the New Zealand First candidate, said the party would spend $3 million on ‘‘digital inclusion’’ at SeniorNet and $2m on computers in homes of students from low decile schools.

Young people wanted to vote online.

“It's inevitable.”

David Elliott, National candidate for Napier and representing an absent Anne Tolley, said civics and oratory should be taught in schools.

People who could not construct an argument could not take part in democracy.

He had asked students at Napier Girls’ High School about online voting.

“They said they wanted to go to a booth and make a mark, because it’s their first vote.

“They felt that was their right."

Mr Elliott said he had since heard the same view from other students.

Gareth Hughes, Green Party list MP and East Coast candidate said he had been taught at school about Henry VIII, but not about the New Zealand Wars or any other topic in New Zealand history. Civics should be taught in schools.

Mr Hughes said he was “a champion” of new technology.

But he had reservations about online voting following alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election. He would support online voting if the system was secure.

Kiri Allan, the Labour candidate, said there were large knowledge gaps among New Zealand students. Labour would have a ‘‘civics package” for students in their last two years at school. Most countries taught civics at school.

‘‘I don’t know why we haven’t been doing it," she said.

“That needs to be changed.”

IMPASSIONED: Civics education campaigner Samantha Wood talks to Lytton High School students about how MMP works. Civics needs to be taught in New Zealand schools, she says. “In the meantime, I’ll do it myself.” File picture by Paul Rickard
Henry VIII: More important to NZ than our own history?