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Research on Teaching and Learning of Economics


2.3.2 Research on Teaching and Learning of Economics

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.

economics (Johnston, McDonald, & Williams, 2001). Hence, this section examines the current practices in teaching economics based on the available literature on economic education at both secondary and tertiary level.

As has been indicated, there has been a growing concern in recent years about the economic literacy among graduates and current practices in teaching economics at different educational levels (Anderson, 1992; Becker, 1997; 2000). Similar concerns are being raised in the Maldives regarding to the lack of knowledge and skills among those Maldivian secondary school graduates who enrol in economics courses at the FE, a problem which was discussed earlier. One of the few research studies available on high school teaching and learning of economics in the US indicates that students tend to be ignorant of key ideas in economics, such as gross national product, inflation, profits, and investment (Walstad & Soper, 1988).

These findings are derived from a national survey of 8,205 eleventh and twelfth Grade students in public and private high schools in 33 states (Walstad & Soper, 1988).

Surprising results were found in a study by Aske (2000) in the US, that American public high school seniors and college seniors show widespread ignorance of the basic economics that are necessary for understanding economic events and changes in the national economy. When asked questions about current economic issues and personal finance, only 35 per cent of high school seniors, 39 per cent of the general public, and 51 per cent of college seniors gave correct answers.

Another study on teaching economics to undergraduates in Europe by Gartner (2001) raised worries about the economics graduates’ inability to communicate effectively in workplaces. Hansen (2001) also raised concerns about graduates’

inability to articulate on economic issues, expressing doubts about what they could do when they entered the real world. The lack of economic literacy among those people might be because the field of economics has placed too little value on the importance of teaching and learning in recent decades (Becker, 1997).

A US report shows that economics is consistently one of the lowest ranked disciplines on undergraduate student ratings of both courses and teachers (Cashin, 1990). In 1996, Margo and Siegfried found, for example, the curriculum content

of introductory economics at university level in the US was not very well structured and the prescribed texts were too often hypothetical and did not involve current events and observable phenomena. A barrier to a major shift in the curriculum is that changes to the content of textbooks occur infrequently (Johnston et al., 2001). Gartner’s survey in 2001 suggests that a slow pace of change in the contents of textbooks is more of a problem in microeconomics (studying the behaviour of individual decision making units) than macroeconomics (which concentrates on the behaviour of entire economies). In addition, Becker (1997) pointed out that many academic economists are not keeping up with educational changes in their subjects and classroom practices, even though the teachers live in societies and work in a profession where demands are continually changing.

A changing world requires a changing style of education. Young people who are being prepared for entry into adult responsibilities need to be equipped with knowledge, skills and positive attitudes to be successful in this society. Thus, economics teachers must continuously assess the economics’ curriculum in terms of the current status of the academic discipline in order to provide students with the latest knowledge and skills necessary for taking part in economic activities (Banaszak, 1987). The primary obligation of the schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions is believed to be to help the students to “develop the capacity to think clearly, objectively, and with a reasonable degree of sophistication about economic problems” (Lee, 1975, p. 39). The lack of economic literacy and inability to reason out clearly and objectively about economic issues leads to limits in taking part as an effective citizen in economic activities, as indicated by the Banaszak (1987).

Nevertheless, there has been a world-wide movement to improve economics teaching through the use of teaching methods designed to have students actively involved in the learning process (Becker & Watts, 2001, 1998; Becker et al., 2006; Johnston et al., 2001). For example, universities in Australia and elsewhere have been rethinking their approaches to teaching economics at all levels (Johnston et al., 2001). This rethinking has elevated the teaching role of schools and universities in some parts of the world. According to Johnston, McDonald,

and Williams (2001) “senior academics have been appointed to lead teaching initiatives, committees have been created to ensure the quality of teaching, and funds have been allocated to encourage the introduction of instructional technology” (p. 195).

While there may be no theoretical consensus on how to teach economics (Shanahan & Meyer, 2001), much uniformity exists in practice (Becker, 1997).

Becker and Watts (2001) found that there was little variation in teaching practices employed in undergraduate economics courses. Their survey on teaching methods in the US undergraduate economics courses found that the results for 2000 had changed very little compared to those found in their 1995 survey. Despite some indications of increased emphasis and interest in teaching over this period, lectures are still the most frequently used teaching strategy by the US economists.

A similar survey by Benzing and Christ (1997), and Siegfried et al., (1996) consistently found that academic economists lectured for approximately 80 per cent of their class time. The remainder was filled with recitation, showing overheads, videos, movies, or questions and answers (Caropreso & Haggerty, 2000).

It is not surprising to note the immense usage of lectures as a mode of instruction (Becker & Watts, 1996, 2001), as it is a rapid way of transmitting factual information and it can be delivered in a manner that motivates and entertains students, for example, through the use of cartoons, videos, newspaper clips, and power point animations (Johnston et al., 2001). A lecture can also provide interactive learning by engaging students through direct questioning or short collaborative exercises within the lecture (Johnston et al., 2001). In addition, Good and Brophy (2003) believe when lectures are presented in interesting and enthusiastic ways then they can stimulate interest and raise questions that students will want to follow up. However, Becker’s and Watts’s (1996; 2001) surveys indicate that these strategies are not often used in teaching economics and that for the vast majority of time lectures are spent using chalk and talk. More recently, this may be whiteboard and talk, and even Powerpoint and talk.

Although the lecture is the most widely used method of teaching, it is my belief that this and other current traditional teaching practices within the post-secondary level will likely move beyond the traditional teaching method that characterised the 20th century method of economics teaching (Becker & Watts, 2001; Benzing

& Christ, 1997; Siegfried et al., 1996). This argument is made on the basis that many students expect to be engaged in the learning process and appear unwilling to sit passively through lectures (Becker, 2000). A report based on 100 observations of chemistry lectures stated that students had a noticeable behaviour change (a lapse in attention) about 10 to 18 minutes into a lecture, with lapses becoming more frequent as time passes (Johnstone & Percival, 1976). Hence, they recommended a varied approach to be used, periodically involving students actively in the learning process. In this regard Becker and Watts (1995) stated that some students are natural-born listeners, some are talkers and discussion leaders, and some seem to learn best using group activities that feature "hands-on"

demonstration of economic concepts and relations. In addition, Siegfried and Fels (1979) advocated the importance of using alternative methods in teaching economics because “different students learn economics in different ways. The best teaching strategy provides alternative learning methods” (p. 953), methods that can keep students actively involved, with both practice and feedback. Such alternative approaches recommended by Becker and Watts (1995) include games and simulations, experimental economics and classroom activities, writing assignments, economics in literature and drama, the popular and business press and case studies (p. 699).

These alternative teaching methods provide opportunities for students to construct their own understanding through interactions both inside and outside the classroom (Bartlett, 1993, 2006; Becker & Watts, 2001, 1998; Benzing & Christ, 1997; Siegfried et al., 1996). This type of learning has typically meant that students work together to learn and to help each other (Caropreso & Haggerty, 2000). For example, teaching and learning based on alternative teaching methods involve students in experiences in which they construct conceptual understanding of economics through a process of exploring, analysing and evaluating factual examples (Jadallah, 2000). From earlier discussion on teaching models and learning theories, it was apparent that in social constructivist perspectives the

individual learns within a socio-cultural context. In other words, a student’s conceptual understanding develops through experiences and is shaped through interactions within other people (Jadallah, 2000). Hence, enhancing the teaching and learning of economics is possible through social constructivist practices.

However, while the speed with which economics teachers embrace new approaches to teaching will depend on many factors, it is worthwhile highlighting first, the willingness of economics teachers to change together with the amount of knowledge they have about the various teaching methods and second, the reward structures in place that might encourage those teachers to change.

2.3.3 Teacher Change

Today, teachers live in a society and work in a profession where demands are continually changing (Ash & Persall, 2000). A changing world requires a changing mode of education. Therefore, teachers are required to respond to the changing needs of education (Rolheiser & Anderson, 2004), just as business has reacted to its changing needs by creating a base for trained employees. Given this significance to education, teachers must be willing to change, learn continuously, and assume greater roles and responsibilities in schools (Ash & Persall, 2000;

Lieberman & Miller, 1990). The educational changes not only affect teachers’

knowledge, skills and problem solving capacities but also affect a whole web of significant and meaningful relationships that make up the work of a school (Hargreaves, 1994, 2005). Hence, this section briefly discusses the importance of teacher change for effective teaching in schools.

There has been growing recognition of the need for change in the practices of schools over the past 50 years, and the quest for change in schooling practices faces immediate problems (Slavin, 2005). Pellicer and Anderson (1995) have outlined some of the problems that continue to confront change in the practices that appear common to many schools. For example, schools have become larger and more complex than ever before. As a result, teachers have been asked to cope with students who have varying ability levels and widely divergent needs.

Teachers themselves have highlighted shortages of teaching resources, teacher

isolation from colleagues, lack of recognition, and unrealistic demands by society among these problems.

With the pressures on schools to improve and raise standards of achievement through innovation (Fink & Stoll, 2005), the demand on teachers to assume greater roles in schools is mounting (Sherrill, 1999). The roles of teachers are changing and becoming more complex and challenging (Fink & Stoll, 2005;

Wasley, 1991). In part, this is due to the higher expectations of teachers by pressure groups such as parents and public (Gmelch & Parkay, 1995). Such challenges include the professionalisation of teaching, shared decision-making, resolving conflicts of interest (Sherrill, 1999; Snyder, 1994) and greater accountability (Neufeld, 1992).

In addition, today’s schools are becoming more diverse and culturally mixed (Johnson & Johnson, 2002; Whyte, 2005). Hence, teachers need to have a range of teaching strategies to meet a wide range of individual needs (Becker et al., 2006;

Berry, 2003). Firstly, teachers must know how to teach the subject using different teaching strategies to cater for individual needs (Johnson & Johnson, 2002).

Teachers who have gained mastery in their classrooms have much to offer and can be an asset to the school (Buckner & McDowelle, 2000). Secondly, teachers must have curriculum development skills and take corresponding action to adapt the curriculum and teaching (Sherrill, 1999). Finally, teachers should have both substantial knowledge and skills in assessment and monitoring techniques for identifying and exhibiting a range of learning outcomes (Little, 1995).

Moreover, the arguments are growing for teacher change to create a collaborative environment which encourages working together in new ways in order to improve schooling for all students (Fullan, 1999). It is believed that collegial collaboration is vital for teachers because it appears to have great impact on changing the school environment, improving student achievement (J. Richardson, 2003) and improving quality of teaching in schools (Slavin, 2005; Wasley, 1991). Collegial relationships and collaboration are believed to provide opportunities for teachers to work together so they can better help students and achieve the goals and objectives of the school (Pellicer & Anderson, 1995).

Despite the importance of collegial collaboration for effective teaching and teacher change, the working lives of many teachers can be characterized by isolation from professional colleagues in self-contained classrooms (Ash &

Persall, 2000). According to Ash and Persall (2000) many of today’s schools are not organised to effectively support and encourage learning because “teachers are isolated, without opportunities to collaboratively solve problems, share information, learn together, and plan for improving student achievement” (p. 1).

In addition, teachers have largely been left out of policy discussions, and are being required to accept curricula change that is not of their own choosing or design (Obert, 2006). Consequently many of them resist often ill-designed and poorly implemented change projects in schools (Fink & Stoll, 2005).

For teachers, many of these changes are coming from outside agents and were not something they sought out on their own terms. Past research shows that such outside pressured curricula changes can often lead to feelings of frustration and even feelings of fear and resentment (Fullan, 1993; Hargreaves, 1994) because many teachers find imposed changes meaningless (Fullan, 1993). Similarly, Fullan and Hargreaves (1991) argued that any changes that are not generated from one’s own choosing can often lead to resistance and even hostility.

Teacher resistance to change has been an ongoing concern among teacher educators for many years. It is possible that the resistance to using innovative teaching by economics teachers is no different from resistance among teachers of other disciplines. It is also possible that lack of alternative methods used by economics teachers is because of inadequate resources or facilities supplied by the schools or institutions. Furthermore, it is possible that economics teachers’

resistance to utilising the different teaching methods reflects an equilibrium in which teaching efficiency has been achieved. Teaching efficiency may reflect the preferences and constraints of both teachers and students (Becker & Watts, 2001).

Although there are problems associated with the teaching and learning of economics, educators continue to believe that various teaching methods available for use in economics offer the means for any teacher to increase both student learning and interest in the subject (Becker & Watts, 2001). It is my view that

teachers require to learn new roles and ways of teaching. This translates into a long-term developmental process requiring teachers to focus on changing their own practice. Teachers must be willing to learn continuously, and expand their abilities as the demands for quality education are continually changing and expanding (Ash & Persall, 2000).

This study therefore aims to develop a cooperative learning model, offering opportunities for students to interact with others in small cooperative groups to learn economics. The study seeks to answer the following research questions by trialing that cooperative learning model at lower secondary school level in the Maldives. The research questions were:

ƒ What are the teachers’ and students’ perceptions about current teaching methods in economics at secondary school level in the Maldives?

ƒ How do teachers and students perceive cooperative learning as an alternative method to teach and learn economics?

ƒ What influence does the learning of cooperative methods have on teachers’ pedagogy and students’ learning?