Last month the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, launched the first CORE course to be taught in Africa. We asked Reza Daniels (RD), a senior lecturer in the School of Economics at UCT, about how his students (above) were reacting to the new style of economics teaching.
CORE: Tell us a little about the economics course you teach.
RD: In 2015 we are piloting the CORE Project in a first-year introductory course called “Economics for non-specialists”, and evaluating it as a possible primary resource for our majoring first-year stream.
CORE: And tell us a little bit about your students.
RD: There are about 60 students in any year. It is a non-technical course so most students who take it are majoring in the other social sciences. Most of them have never been exposed to any economics before, so students often need to be reminded about basic concepts like production, consumption, demand and supply.
CORE: When did you hear about this course?
RD: I first heard about CORE at the 2013 Global Economic Symposium in Kiel, Germany, and I was intrigued by it. In 2014 at the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s conference: “Human After All: Innovation, Disruption, Society” I met Wendy Carlin, and told her I’d like to adopt the CORE project at UCT.
CORE: What attracted you to it?
RD: I was concerned by the almost exclusive neoclassical theoretical focus of most undergraduate economics textbooks. The set of analytical skills associated with understanding the neoclassical model had pedagogical advantages, but I felt [the focus] led to misleading implications, often very different to what newer thinking in both micro and macro were highlighting, and ignored more heterogeneous approaches to common economic problems.
In a developing country like South Africa, and indeed the broader African region, students at universities know very well that economists and policymakers in general have not solved the big economic questions. Yet an exclusively neoclassical treatment pretends that this has happened.
What I really enjoy about the CORE Project that we have taught so far – we’ve only dealt with the micro units at this point – is the behavioural focus, and the emphasis on the incentives that agents face. This approach to economics makes the student far more cognisant of the broader environment.
CORE: What has been the reaction from students?
RD: So far the students have been enthusiastic and are very happy that they don’t have to pay for another textbook! They’ve also enjoyed using the resource on the Inkling app, and the functionality this provides.
CORE: How would you like to see the course develop in the future?
RD: At UCT we may need more introductory material on basic economic definitions. Students in South Africa come into tertiary education with 12 years of schooling, unlike many other Commonwealth countries that have 13 years of schooling. This means that we often have to clarify basic concepts that students in other parts of the world would probably know. As we implement CORE we are paying careful attention to this, and prescribing supplementary resources when we need them.