Politicians trying to engage school-age voters

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A ballot box (picture is illustrative). Source: ERR

Political parties are trying to engage 16- and 17-year-old voters by organizing debates at school. The Ministry of Education has said schools must remain neutral in the discussion.

Anyone over the age of 16 with permanent residency can vote in the upcoming Estonian local elections and schools can organize debates to help educate their pupils.

On Monday evening, ETV's evening news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) looked at what and how schools are educating their pupils in the run-up to the October elections.

Schools must invite representatives from all parties, election blocks and individual candidates to speak to the students. If teachers at the school are standing in the local elections then they must be excluded from the school environment.

The Ministry of Education has set some guidelines so schools remain neutral.

"These events must be organized on the principle that they must not take place within the framework of teaching, [and] participation in them must be voluntary," Ministry of Education and Research coordinator Ülle Matsin told AK.

Jaan Poska Gymnasium in Tartu is planning a debate and Taavi Linnus, a social studies teacher, told AK he did not think the school's principal running for election would influence the students very much. However, if acquaintances of friends apply this may have a bigger impact on the way they vote.

Linnus said young people are becoming more politically engaged especially on issues "they can see with their own eyes".

"In a situation where our political picture is polarizing, there is more and more interest in politics. World politics issues are perhaps more interesting. At the same time, there is also interest in local government issues," he said.

At the local elections in 2017, the turnout for 16 and 17-year-olds was 59 percent - higher than the 53 percent turnout rate for the whole population.

Mihkel Solvak, senior researcher at the University of Tartu's Johan Skytte Institute, told AK the reason for the surprisingly high turnout was novelty.

"This is partly due to the fact that they could try for the first time, people went and experimented. Now we will be able to see if it stays that high. It is rather unusual, traditionally young people do not go to the polls. I think it will be a little lower, but perhaps the novelty will affect it somewhat and it will not be as low in the 18-20 age group, maybe it will be a little higher," he said.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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