'I wish it could actually count': Mock vote primes elementary and high school students for election
More than 1 million grade schoolers across Canada able to participate in Student Vote Canada 2019
They may be too young to vote, but that doesn't mean students at Michael Power/St. Joseph High School aren't keeping up with the upcoming federal election.
"A lot of young people are politically engaged to begin with," says Enrico Cumbo, a teacher at the school in Etobicoke, Ont. "There's a sense of issues — they're not quite clear what it is, but the curiosity to know a bit more is in itself worthwhile."
In his critical thinking class, Cumbo doesn't teach from a textbook. Instead, he lets his students drive the conversation on election issues such as misinformation.
"It's extremely important, I think, in teaching to take your students seriously, no matter what the age is," he said, in order to get them to open up and have a serious discussion. "If you start at that base, and then we can talk about issues."
Cumbo's approach is resonating with his students.
"Politics can usually be seen as a sort of messy subject to talk about in casual conversation," said Denise San Juan, a student in Cumbo's class.
"Having these discussions in class and having an open-minded safe area to discuss these things without any judgment ... is a really good place to start."
While Cumbo's students won't legally be able to vote in the federal election, they're participating in a mock election being held across the country called Student Vote Canada 2019.
Student Vote is organized by CIVIX, a civic education charity, and runs parallel to the federal election.
More than 1 million elementary and secondary students at 9,500 schools across Canada are able to cast ballots in the mock federal election between Oct. 15 and 18.
"The idea is to have them start to understand what it means to be a citizen and to participate as a citizen before they're of voting age," said Taylor Gunn, president of CIVIX.
Aside from Student Vote, CIVIX also provides classrooms with tools to help students get informed about politics before they cast their mock ballots.
"We have a special youth edition of Vote Compass made for students and teachers in classrooms," said Gunn.
The tool allows students to find out where they stand on the political spectrum, and what the key election issues are.
In addition, students can use a website called Pollenize to learn more about various party platforms and the promises made by the political parties.
This year's Student Vote is the sixth mock vote held in conjunction with a federal election.
"When we started, there could've been some teachers that maybe put [together] a class or two before their kids voted," said Gunn.
"Now it's regular for teachers to tell us how confident they are that their kids know more about the election and the issues and the candidates than their parents."
Votes in the student mock election will be counted over the weekend and the results released on Student Vote's website when the federal election's official polls close Monday night.
'I wish it could actually count'
The goal of getting young people interested in exercising their democratic rights at the polls seems to be working. Students participating in the mock vote at Michael Power/St. Joseph High School told CBC News that they're eager to cast ballots in the real Canadian federal election.
"[Voting] is empowering for sure … but knowing that it doesn't truly count is kind of a letdown for us," said Angela Bilic. "I wish it could actually count, to let our voices be heard."
The Grade 12 student's enthusiasm about the electoral process is exactly what Cumbo wants to hear from his students.
"To me, what matters is that the school … becomes a bridge for these kids going out and understanding what it means to be a Canadian," Cumbo said.
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With files from Andrew Chang and Nicole Brewster-Mercury