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.