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?