I’m a firm believer in the value of economic education. An understanding of incentives, opportunity costs, supply and demand are as essential for making sense of the world as maps, history and periodic tables.
So I was alarmed when I read this week that economics education is not up to scratch. Griffith University’s Professor Tony Makin and lecturer Alex Robson, reviewed the economics curriculum concluding the course needs to be re-written from scratch.
The author of the curriculum, Associate Professor Alex Millmow, of Federation University, responded that, “We didn’t want to scare away primary school teachers. It’s not an economics course“.
The current course was introduced by former Minister for School Education Peter Garrett for years 5 to 8 or kids of around 10 to 14 years to: “equip the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and businesspeople to continue to grow the Australian economy as well as take advantage of the global business opportunities the Asian Century will bring.”
Which means the author had to create a curriculum that could be taught by non-economists to children under 14 but nonetheless meet expectations that it be a serious preparation for becoming young entrepreneurs leading the country in a mighty trade incursion into Asia. No wonder the bloke who wrote it feels unfairly assessed. The job he was given amounted to spinning straw into gold.
CIS research fellow Dr Jennifer Buckingham has noted what is sometimes called the ‘Peter effect’ -coined for the plea of Saint Peter to the beggar that he could not give him money that he did not have. A teacher cannot teach what the teacher doesn’t know. The former government’s enthusiasm to add yet another ‘essential’ component to the national curriculum has meant yet another case of the curriculum being reduced to the level at which teachers can teach it, rather than being elevated to the level at which students can profit from it.
Many children will benefit from an economic education. But if kids are going to become entrepreneurs and conquer the Asian Century, it needs to be the sort of economics Professor Makin would like to see taught. Rather than simplifying advanced subjects for small kids, we’d be better off teaching small kids to read and count properly so that in high school they are equipped to study any advanced course effectively. Splitting their primary years between a growing number of poorly taught add-ons is putting at risk the literacy and numeracy education on which the rest of their lifelong learning depends.
Cassandra Wilkinson is External Relations Manager at The Centre for Independent Studies.