A group of 5th class students in St Colman’s College, Fermoy are among the first students in the country to take Politics and Society, a new school subject that will first be examined in the Leaving Certificate in 2018.

St Colman’s College are among 41 post-primary schools nationwide, including just two in Cork to introduce the new subject this year.

As they wrap up for the Christmas break, The Avondhu spoke with class teacher Ms Twohig and students about the subject which aims to develops a student’s ability to be a reflective and active citizen, teaching them about social and political theories and how these theories relate to current issues. Brexit and Trump’s US presidential success are among the current topics used for discussions in class.

Ms Twohig said Politics and Society has been brought in to further develop subjects like CSPE in Junior Cert.

“It helps them to learn about the world around them and to bring forward their own political opinions. I think they have varied opinions on different things, for the election of Donald Trump we looked at who would vote for him given the opportunity, who wouldn’t vote for him, who likes what he stands for or who doesn’t like what he stands for. So it gives them a chance to become more aware of their own ideas of politics.

Teacher Carol Twohig discusses politics with 5th year students in St Colman’s College.

“We’ve looked at topical things like democracy, power, law. At the moment we’re looking at social class, social disadvantage in third level education, we’ll be looking at gender and feminism in the New Year. We’ve looked at power in schools and how decision making affects them in a school context, and of course we widen it out into national and international institutions,” she said.

As an option subject, students have the opportunity to decide themselves whether or not to take it as part of their Leaving Certificate programme. “It makes you more politically aware of what’s going on around you,” one student said. The most interesting aspect of the subject so far, the students said, has been examining power and how decision are made, both inside the school and further afield.

“The course I want to do is Business and Law. Law ties in with the human rights aspect of politics, that’s why I chose this subject,” another student said. “So far we’ve been covering power and things like that. It’s more the human rights aspect that we start next term, that would deal more with the course I want to do then.”

Given that the students have no actual past exam papers to go on, Ms Twohig said their decision to choose the subject makes them ‘very brave’. “When you think about a Leaving Cert subject you’re thinking about points and your future career, so it’s brave of them to be the first to break the ground on this.”

Part of the course looks at famous political theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx. “They’ll get an overview of what those thinkers had to say on different things, and they’ll be able to give their opinion then after outlining what the thinker said, to encourage them to do research, to engage with material but to form their own opinion then as well. We discuss these in class; they learn that you have to respect someone else’s point of view, but it can be challenged as well,” said Ms Twohig.