Teachers are future builders, not quite as dramatically as Elon Musk mapping out a Mars base, but in their classrooms they can transform whispers into movements and ideas into social upheaval. They build human towers like in the youtube clip here. In fact, the human dynamics in a classroom have a lot of similarities with the casteller. The challenge of the endeavour can only be met by everyone working together: teachers, schools, systems, universities, organisations and governments. Sometimes it just topples over but at other times it rises up like a phoenix from the fire.
Female students are not choosing to study economics for a whole host of reasons, mostly around the line of sight for women in economics, perceived 'blokey' culture in economics' fields such as banking and finance, misinformation or lack of information about economics all compounded by a predominance of neoclassical economics embedded in a high stakes testing regime. No teacher, however inspiring or filled with revolutionary zeal, can take that on, but in a network of teachers we can begin to chart a new course. Building links in professional learning communities and teacher associations as well as influential organisations such as the Reserve Bank can create a space for innovation and sustainable change. Perhaps a castellar of economics!
Where Do We Start?
The classroom environment matters for student and teacher well-being, and in this relationship of trust, students become engaged and learn more.
What we teach and how we do that is a focus in education that dominates teacher training and professional learning. In some ways we haven't seen the forest for the trees in this discussion. It is the classroom environment that builds the casteller. Teaching and learning cannot happen in a vacuum, it thrives in a student-centred, inquiry-based classroom environment with a teacher that teaches character through curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. When an economics teacher has the practical support to create a culture of learning in their classroom that does this, students switch on to economics despite socio-political influences.
Through the RBA Scholarship I've come to see these socio-political elements not as symptoms thwarting the process of change but as signposts to what we can do to innovate teaching economics for girls. I know that schools depend on outside agencies for financial support and resource streams are in a trickle-down phase. I know that educators and school leaders have their hands tied here but there are some things we can change. Our approach to leading educational change by empowering teachers to build communities of practice through professional learning teams will shift the status quo currently marginalising women in economics. It will be the teachers who will make the change happen.
Dr Koh reflected on the long strategy that has elevated economics in Singapore schools. It has been a 12 year campaign impressing on policy makers the fundamental position of economics as a platform for the acquisition of 21st century skills. Economics is compulsory and part of mainstream courses. Financial literacy is incorporated in primary and secondary curricular. Through partnerships with other government agencies such as the Ministry of Manpower and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, teachers have created an awareness of financial literacy at a mainstream level. Economics is seen as a natural extension. Financial advocacy and what Dr Koh termed "coffee shop talk" around issues involving economic concepts means Singapore citizens are not only future thinkers, they are discerning and well-informed.
Authentic, experiential learning comes from a collaboration between teachers and the community. Our Prime Minister addressed Economics teachers to show everyone how important it is we work with them.
In tackling the problem of not enough girls studying economics there needs to be a coherent overarching strategy, but as the Singapore example and other schools I've visited in this study tour suggest, it has to be a strategy that works with teachers not dictates to them. As economics teachers begin to understand what is turning girls away and address this in their classes and their schools, system shifts becomes humanistic not mechanistic. When communities change norms then real change strikes through.
We need to start changing how we teach economics, how we teach girls in our economics classrooms and we need to do this in partnership with other teachers and our wider community. There will always be a tension between external accountability and encouraging internal growth but this learning partnership with the RBA offers new alternatives to designing communities of practice that are capable of balancing these competing demands. Bringing a real world dimension of learning in economics using every day examples and current events and making room in the classroom for students' voices, especially girls is a start. In a complex adaptive system, we cannot plan and design every finite step, we just need to know where we are going and what we can use to get there. We are what will bring about change.
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One major feature that distinguishes most of the top countries educationally from those in the middle is that they focus their efforts within the school and within the classroom (especially by privileging teacher and school leader expertise) rather than spend their resources outside it. Further, they aim for all to gain at least a year’s growth for a year’s input and provide support for making these judgements.
Is the HSC a Prisoner's Dilemma?
Could choosing your subjects for the HSC mean individuals gain by competing, when in fact if there were more institutional options for a cooperative strategy, we as a community could benefit?
Elinor Ostrom is the only woman to be awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences. Her work "Governing the Commons" was about building a society that could work for all of us. It celebrates cooperative solutions that facilitate individual collective action beyond state initiatives. The large-scale panopticon measures and curriculum indications from NESA and ACARA will encourage changes but it will be successful self-organisation that will perpetuate sustainable change. It will be our individual actions that will create sustainable education innovation. I found a living example of this in Singapore.
Goss (2017) identifies interventions that are working. In particular the design for change within and across schools point to deliberate measures that encourage collaborative expertise (see below for a snapshot). Fundamental to these outcomes is parallel leadership.
It (parallel leadership) embodies four distinct qualities -mutual trust, shared purpose, allowance for individual expression and a commitment to sustainable school success.
Working together works and the evidence substantiates that.
Hattie (2015, p. 27) talks about
Creative collaboration involves bringing together two or more seemingly unrelated ideas, and this highlights again the importance of having safe and trusting places to explore ideas, to make and to learn from errors and to use expertise to maximise successful learning.
It reminded me of Ostrom's work on cooperation and collaboration and so many more educational theorists.
For pre-university students, a directive from the Ministry of Education in Singapore (MOE) set out a proviso that students needed to select a 'contrasting subject'. The emphasis was to create balance in a student's subject selection. For instance, if they chose science subjects, they would need to also select art. Economics as a contrasting subject presented a unique opportunity to draw in students with 'contrasting' interests. It created a surge in enrollment in economics.
Assessment frameworks also changed, moving away from multiple choice to higher order thinking skills. Assessment utilises a student's understanding of contemporary economic conditions (in terms of Blooms' Taxonomy) through problem based learning that invite analysis and evaluation. It left more room in the teaching and learning plan as drilling and skilling made way for deeper learning.
Assessment drives learning.
Alongside these structural changes master teachers, such as Miss Deborah How, have brought together teachers in an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. The sharing and commitment of the professional learning community was genuine, and tangible in the energy of the group and the dynamism of the classrooms. There was a constant student buzz as students discussed the subject at hand and expressed articulate and heartfelt ideas about economic concepts and scenarios.
In the teaching and learning environment, students' self-understanding and their perceptions of themselves in particular contexts, feeds back to the teachers and their professional learning community.
Effective learners create internal feedback and cognitive routines while they are engaged in academic tasks.
Could this model help overcome some of the competitive dynamic 'gaming' an opt-out of economics for females?
Open-ended tasks in learning designs that build stronger student teams and utilise critical and creative thinking opportunities all come from teachers collaborating, and a school commitment to create better learning outcomes. Teachers willing to learn and work together is at the heart of change in education.
This feedback loop is 'nested' in a regional/network, state and national dynamic as shown in Goss (2017, p.19). Speaking with officers in the MOE, it is easily appreciated how cognisant they are of the importance of MOE's role in creating fertile conditions for teacher growth.
The MOE have some prescriptive designs in delivering the economics curriculum but allow for significant autonomy for teachers and schools. A Framework for Disciplinary Thinking in A Level Economics (see below) in particular allows for wholistic discussion, as it directs teachers and learners to explore intended and unintended consequences.
It reminded me of another of Ostrom's straight talking ideas,
“The power of a theory is exactly proportional to the diversity of situations it can explain.”
Giving students the opportunity to question and critique is key to learning in the knowledge economy. Let them evaluate if the theory holds up.
Teacher Growth Model
In finding out what influence the MOE has on teachers, Ms Fan Kai Ten, Assistant Director, Economics Unit, Humanities Branch, Curriculum Planning and Development Division 2 shared with me,
The Teacher Growth Model (TGM) developed by the Academy of Singapore Teachers is a professional development model to encourage Singapore teachers to engage in continual learning and take ownership of their growth.
Click on the image to link to the MOE.
Lofty but Empowering!
In particular the TGM sets out some aspirational but also inspirational ideals for the teacher as:
The Ethical Educator
The Competent Professional
The Collaborative Learner
The Transformational Leader and
The Community Builder
See the PDF for more information around the TGM when it was launched.
How can we learn from Singapore?
A new way forward begins with "mutual trust, shared purpose, allowance for individual expression and a commitment to sustainable school success" (Crowther, 2010, p.37). This seems to be where the heart of Singapore's internationally celebrated success exists. It has to be in the same place for economics education in NSW and Australia.
Crowther, F. (2010). Parallel Leadership: The Key to Successful School Capacity-Building. Leading & Managing, 16(1), 16-39.
Dweck, C. S., Davidson, W., Nelson, S., & Enna, B. (1978). Sex Differences in Learned Helplessness: II. The Contingencies of Evaluative Feedback in the Classroom and III. An Experimental Analysis. Developmental Psychology, 14(3), 268–276.
Goss, P. (2017). Towards an Adaptive Education System in Australia. Grattan Institute.
Hattie, J. (2015, June). The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. Retrieved from Pearson Higher Education: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/hattie/150526_ExpertiseWEB_V1.pdf
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 1, 81-112.
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou
How do fearless girls feel about economics?
If economics as a discipline is gender-blind does that mean that the economics classroom is gender-blind too? How does this make girls feel in an economics classroom? What can we do about it?
Economic modelling relies on self-centred independent individuals, and positions households as homogeneous decision-making units in the market. A more gender-inclusive approach to economics recognises how women and men act on their feelings which cannot be explained by homo economicus. The way we relate to one another is through our mutual interdependence in and out of the market. If fearless girls are sitting in a classroom where economic modelling identifies the main decision-maker of the household as being in paid work and contributing to GDP and neglects to consider other aspects, what role is that giving women? What role do girls see themselves in when they are being presented with a neo-classical economic model?
If in our classrooms we rely on explaining behaviour solely through a utility-maximising model, we might be leaving girls out of the conversation. If they are considering where care provision is in the model and can't find it, they may be feeling left out.
Outside factors, such as misinformation and poor access to understanding economics is limiting interest in economics. Internally some influences such as the high stakes testing environment of the HSC and a selective, elitist attitude to economics in schools is also turning girls away. The subject itself when limited to a neo-classical model is not speaking to girls as it is gender-blind. With less girls in the economics classroom asking questions, the fearless girls left may be feeling that they are not seen or heard. The problems are compounding the dynamic around economics. This study points out what individual teachers can do in their classrooms:
Get girls talking first.
As teachers we are aware of what makes great teaching. Coe, Aloisi, Higgins, & Major (2014) offer the following:
Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. (2014). What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research. Washington, D. C.
Fischer, L., Hasell, J., Proctor, J. C., Uwakwe, D., Ward-Perkins, Z., & Watson, C. (Eds.). (2018). Rethinking Economics: An Introduction to Pluralist Economics. New York, NY: Routledge.
What is 'Good' in Economics?
Although not a deliberate alignment, this week's line up all gravitated around a reckoning of the 'good' in economics. I listened to some eminent thinkers and published writers talking about "Morality and Economics" at the Philadelphia Convention Center, spent some time at St Ignatius Loyola, a Jesuit school on Park Ave, NYC, travelled to Washington where the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center is based and visited some of the great monuments and memorials there. After a 21 hour "Planes, trains and automobiles" replay we arrived in London.
The GFC has figured large this week in identifying what is the good of economics in a great many discussions, both spontaneous and prepared. In "Keynes: The Return of the Master", Skidelsky explores the renaissance of Keynesian economics after the GFC and strengthens his support for that resurgence in governments protecting society from risk, advocating regulation against short-term speculation. With female economists in the minority and as some studies suggest (see here), they not only have different opinions to men, they are less sceptical of regulation. It seems that without women the diversity of opinion for government policies will be limited. Skidelsky makes a compelling argument that government policy should be fuelled by a moral imperative, referring to Keynes' assertion that making "the world ethically better was the only justifiable purpose of economic striving" (p. 131). The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in bold brass and stone said exactly the same thing. The eloquence of Martin Luther King Jnr was beautifully displayed, echoing a similar sentiment. It reminded me that all great leaders and thinkers are directed by their moral compass. If economics is a leader, we would expect the same from it as a discipline. If a gender bias skews policy direction away from redistribution, then it has lost direction.
FDR was clear:
Living a good life is not necessarily about the pursuit of material wealth, it lives in what makes people good. Teaching economics from this perspective can be a powerful experience for teachers and students. It also hones in on the human dynamics of economics. If there are less girls opting in for economics because they are sceptical about the discipline, we need to broaden its brief by focussing on the moral imperatives in its curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
In Kaushik Basu's session at ASSA, (link here) he laid down a foundation principal that:
"Morality is the essential glue that holds society together and enables self-interest to drive growth and markets to function".
Self-monitoring behaviour, where morality is at play, influences decision making that avoids cheating. It began with Aristotle but Smith in "Theory of Moral Sentiments" recognised that without a moral conscience, markets cannot work. Morals help us ask "What can I do?", ethics establish "What is good?" Economics can explain "What is good for us?" Economics should "offer some flavor of history and moral philosophy: enough history that students are not ignorant, enough sociology and anthropology that students are not morons, and enough politics and philosophy that students are not fools." (Click for link) This broader perspective on economics echoes where cognitive science is taking education. Socio-constructivist learning is about how genuine learning is heuristic and collaborative, an iterative process between students, teachers and society. To embrace learning in this paradigm the curriculum needs a pluralist perspective anchored by genuine intentions that can only derive from an ethical perspective.
In an economics framework, the students at Loyola said it looked like this:
In a candid discussion about economics in the classroom, the Loyola students expressed their concerns around economic mechanisms and processes and how it related to their lives. They were searching for economic's moral compass: how does our prosperity affect people in developing countries, how can we invest in education for a better life, how can we protect our environment and still raise living standards?
With the icy and inclement weather I could not get over to The George Washington University but it is worth watching this FinLit Talk from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. The Q & A session covered all the key concerns that the female students from Loyola expressed.
“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea