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International Trends in Economic Education


2.3.1 International Trends in Economic Education

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, economic education in many countries concentrated on the application of economic concepts to understanding and analysing their economies (Nelson, 1997). Since the early 1980s, with the emergence of newly industrialised economies, for example, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Mexico and more recently the issues associated with globalisation and political events in Eastern Europe such as the collapse of Communism, economic education has become increasingly concerned with international issues (Nelson, 1997).

Therefore, the aim of this section is to provide a short historical background on the trends and developments in economic education throughout the world.

However, due to the lack of research literature, this section will focus on a few selected countries.

It seems that economic education has in some sense been stronger in terms of research and research dissemination in the US than in any other part of the world.

Thus, this section traces major developments in the US and makes reference to other parts of the world in considering economic education from an international perspective. Further, this section covers some concerns associated with economic education in the Maldives that is the context of this study.

Economic education in US

Since 1891, an extensive research literature has been developed on economic education in the US (Becker & Watts, 1998). During the first 50 years, the American Economic Association (AEA) considered the teaching of economics to be an important subject for discussion and debate (Salemi & Siegfried, 1999). The first president of AEA, Francis Walker in 1891, expressed his personal satisfaction with popular interest in economics (Becker & Watts, 1998). Hence, the founders of AEA set as a goal “… to educate public opinion about economic

questions and economic literature” (Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991, p. 373). As economics began to emerge as a separate discipline from social science towards the end of the nineteenth century, more and more academics began devoting their attention to the problems of teaching economics, and therefore, economics found a niche in the curriculum of many colleges and universities (Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991).

The attention then shifted towards economics in secondary schools (Hinshaw &

Siegfried, 1991). In 1899, Clow discussed the advantages and disadvantages of teaching economics in secondary schools. After a detailed discussion of the educational value of economics, he raised his concerns about the capacity of students in terms of their intellectual ability to acquire economics and questioned

…. the wisdom of trying to teach [economics] to immature minds. It is a grave question how far minds of the high school period are capable of rising to the delicate distinctions required or how much of what may be taught them at that stage they are capable of carrying with profit into after life. (Clow 1899, p.1999, in Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991)

However, Clow concluded that economics can be studied successfully in secondary schools if taught by well-prepared and skilful teachers, and he urged its introduction into high schools (cited in Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991). The rationale was to improve economic literacy—knowledge, skills and positive attitudes, needed for responsible citizenship—among a wider community, by giving a strong emphasis on this subject in the curriculum of secondary schools (Seiter, 1989).

The establishment of the first Committee on Secondary Education in Economics, and consecutive series of roundtable discussions on teaching general economics during the 1920s (Salemi & Siegfried, 1999) has highlighted the importance of secondary and collegiate teaching (Becker & Watts, 1998).

However, during the last 50 years, the leaders of AEA have largely ceded questions on teaching to specialists (Becker & Watts, 1998) until the establishment of the Committee on Economic Education (CEE) that charged and focused on improving the status of economic education within the profession, by stimulating and encouraging economic education sessions in various meetings

(Salemi & Siegfried, 1999). Later the committee revised the charge to include actively “… improving the quality of economic education at all levels, from pre-college to pre-college, adult and general economic education” (Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991, p. 378).

The publication of the Journal of Economic Education (JEE) in 1969 was one of the major steps towards the dissemination of research findings and information about the teaching of economics. Since then many studies have been published in the JEE, and the literature on economic education continued to grow steadily in the 1970s (Becker et al., 1991).

Despite the slow growth of published research on economic education in the 1980s the CEE was active in developing materials, sponsoring conferences, and nurturing young scholars interested in doing research on teaching high school economics (Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991).

Finally, in the 1990s there appeared a growing concern among the leading professional economists including Anderson (1992); Becker (1997); Becker and Watts (1996; 2001; 1998); Becker, Watts, and Becker (2006); and Siegfried, Saunders, Sonar and Zhang (1996) about the problems of teaching economics.

Some critiqued both the goals and effectiveness of economic education, arguing that as tertiary institutions expanded into graduate education, economists lost sight of the importance of undergraduate courses and the way they are taught (Caropreso & Haggerty, 2000). In contrast with other subjects that have moved to a broad teaching repertoire, economics tends to be taught by the lecture method in undergraduate courses (Becker, 1997). Furthermore, Margo and Siegfried (1996) called for a “substantial change in content, management and pedagogical style in the introductory course in the hope of attracting more and better students” (p.


Economic education in other parts of the world

Economics is taught in some form in the secondary schools of nations throughout the world (Walstad, 1994). It is rarely taught in primary schools as a separate subject from social studies (Saunders, 1994). Although economics courses are

offered in colleges and universities, many students end their formal education after secondary school (Hinshaw & Siegfried, 1991). Thus, the best opportunity for the economic education of the youth of a nation occurs in secondary schools (Caropreso & Haggerty, 2000; Walstad, 2001).

The teaching of economics varies across countries. These differences occur because of history, the structure of the education system, and other national factors such as culture (Walstad, 1994). At the same time, there are common elements in the economic education of many countries, especially in content (Kyung-Keun, 1994).

There are several factors associated with recent international trends in economic education. First, the sudden rise of modern human capital theory—that analyses an individual’s decisions about education—coinciding with the expanded educational programmes throughout the world to increase the general awareness on economic matters orchestrated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development (Marshall, 1995). Second, the collapse of former Communist countries in Europe and Asia and their accompanying economic reforms has moved from centrally planned to free market economies (Nelson, 1997). A free market economic approach requires a degree of participatory decision making that was neither practised in society nor taught in the schools of former Communist countries (Nelson, 1997). Finally, issues about relationships between economics understanding and the nature of citizenship education, and the impact of it on citizens in a democracy continued to dominate (Nelson, 1997). In many countries, citizenship education is now part of the national curriculum that includes units of work on economic understanding. These include, for example, how the economy functions, including the role of business and financial services, the rights and responsibilities of consumers, employers and employees, the economic relationships between the nations and finally the wider issues and challenges of global interdependence and responsibility including sustainable development (Seiter, 1989).

Hence, one could say that there have been significant developments in economic education programmes during the last two decades involving exchanges between

Central and Eastern European and American economics educators that have promoted teaching and learning about market-based economic systems and democratic governance (Nelson, 1997).

Economic education in the Maldives

In the Maldives, economics is incorporated with history and geography as social studies in the middle school, but taught as a separate subject in both lower and higher secondary. Normally, commerce stream students in lower secondary and business stream students in higher secondary do economics as part of their London based school qualifications. As has been mentioned earlier the school streams provide students with an opportunity to decide the type of education they need for their career. In the Maldives, science used to be the preferred stream by both students of secondary schools and their parents (Ministry of Education, 1995). However, the recent changes in the perceptions of people and the global economy affected the continued preference for science. In other words, more students now choose to do commerce subjects such as Accounting, Commerce, and Economics as their preferred stream in secondary schools.

Although the students’ preference for the commerce stream is on the increase in the Maldives the lack of economics knowledge among the high school graduates and their inability to apply the concepts in real life situations is a major concern among practitioners and teacher educators (Ministry of Communication Science and Technology, 2001). My work as a teacher educator at the Faculty of Education (FE), the Maldives College of Higher Education, involved teaching economics and professional studies (teaching and learning of economics) for degree and diploma students who wanted to become economics teachers in secondary schools in the Maldives. During my employment at the FE I found most of the students who enrolled in our programmes had neither sufficient knowledge of economics nor the skills to analyse basic economic problems. This was neither because they had not completed economics courses in their high schools nor because they had not obtained good results in their high school certificates. In fact many of these students had obtained good results at the end of their London General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level Examination. There may be many reasons for lack of knowledge and skills among

the high school graduates in the Maldives. One possible reason may be that teachers have a traditional approach to teaching economics based on the transmission model that promotes neither the interaction between prior and new knowledge nor the conversations that are necessary for internalisation and deep understanding (Cannella & Reiff, 1994). Traditional teaching is concerned with the teacher being the controller of the learning environment. Power and responsibility are held by the teacher and they play the role of instructor and decision maker. In other words, the traditional teacher views that it is the teacher that causes learning to occur (Novak, 1998). The information acquired from traditional teaching appears not well integrated with other knowledge held by the students. Thus, new knowledge is often only brought forth for school-like activities such as exams, and cannot be used in different contexts (Richardson, 1997).

Another possible reason could be the strong emphasis that is placed on examination oriented teaching in the Maldivian education system. Cannella and Reiff (1994) labelled this type of teaching based on traditional models as didactic, memory-oriented transmission models. Finally, economics as a school subject and its place in the school curriculum are very much under-researched in the Maldives.

Despite these trends and developments in economic education throughout the world and advancement in the "global village," it is still easy to be narrow-minded and inward looking when it comes to teaching practice. However, there is the potential to learn and improve current teaching methods. The following subsection critically examines research on teaching and learning economics and current classroom practices in teaching economics.