Inclusion and engagement in high school economics

By Leith Thompson, Burwood Girls High School | 13 July 2017

The Reserve Bank of Australia has a problem with economists: it can’t get enough of them. In Australia, there is a declining number of students studying the subject, and so the bank has difficulty recruiting graduates.

The Reserve Bank is not alone. The problem begins because a declining number of Australian students choose studying economics at the Higher School Certificate level at school. There is also a decline in the proportion of females studying economics. Many of us know that we need to re-evaluate what we teach in introductory economics courses, how we teach them, and to question the programmes we use to encourage awareness of our subject. Economics, the language of power, policy and change, requires a balanced gender representation and a diversity of perspectives and insights if it is to maintain its credibility, quality and robustness.

In 2016 the Reserve Bank asked me to do some research on how to encourage female students into the field by creating a more inclusive economics. I travelled throughout the US and UK learning from academics and professionals, experts in the field of economics education, and found that many of us are facing the same problems.

I learned that if we are to address diversity in the economics profession globally, we need to motivate and inspire interest for the subject at high school level. If students do not understand what economics is, or even fail to see the power of ‘bigger picture’ economics, then not only will they not go on to choose economics at university, but they will not have the tools to make rational economic decisions when they vote, or make personal or professional decisions in their lives.

We don’t just need to encourage female students to study economics, but we also need to adopt innovative, best practice pedagogy that inclusively encourages all students to embrace economics. Gender needs to be acknowledged, and we need to teach with gender-neutral practices. Traditionally, economics has been taught in a manner akin to the “Sage on the stage”, or the “Talking head”. If we want to improve engagement from all genders, we need to adopt 21st-century learning techniques. It has been shown that female students benefit most from inclusive, active, collaborative and experiential pedagogy. This means practices such as classroom “flipping”, collaborative tasks, and more student-centred learning modules will enable greater engagement and success by female students.

Gender-inclusive learning also means that, as educators, we need to teach economics as a means of social inquiry if we want to encourage and motivate the next generation of learners. Teaching economics should relate to the real world. It should answer the global questions and concerns of the next generation. And it should cater to a wider spectrum of students so that we encourage stronger participation among females and other underrepresented minority groups.

CORE’s application of economic theory to a real-world context enables us to bridge the link between the economics we understand—a bigger picture, a subject that teaches us about power, more a way of thinking than a discipline—and the type of course that is usually given to students of economics. CORE shines a light on economics as a means of social inquiry, and so it engages and motivates a more diverse range of students. It also improves accessibility and resource support for all students.

As a global discipline, the economic concepts we are teaching are common across the world. There is huge potential in CORE because it is applicable it to many types of students in different countries.

What did I learn in my research?

  • Encourage active learning: To engage a wider audience, our economics pedagogy needs to include inclusive, experiential, collaborative and active learning strategies. The CORE Project is a great example of a platform that enables educators to meet this requirement. It provides an excellent resource to enable classroom “flipping”, the interactive nature of the Project enables more active learning strategies to be employed and easy access to the content provides a platform that is easy to create collaborative tasks around.
  • Students can work together: Wherever and whoever we are, our economics has more in common than is different. The applicability of The CORE Project across the global community is evidence of this. Because of this commonality, we have enormous potential to collaborate, and if we do, we increase the interest and motivation of our students, so they learn better. Through global applications such as CORE we have common content that we can leverage to engage in global learning and collaboration, such as the proposed international competitions run between high schools in the UK, the US and Australia.
  • Teachers can work together: Our discipline will become stronger if we engage in global collaboration. Economics needs a broad range of perspectives, talents and influences to produce the robust depth of thought required to meet the global challenges of the future.
  • We already have the platform to do this: The CORE Project provides the opportunity to engage both globally and domestically across a range of different demographics, enabling this diversity of thought and influence to develop.