An updated economics syllabus after 44 years would be an asset

I don’t normally post my indo columns here, but I think readers of this blog may be interested in this one. The column follows on from last week’s discussion on this blog about the leaving certificate economics exam and its problems, but focuses on trying to secure a constructive outcome if possible.

I think we have to recognise two sets of constraints here.

  1. Second level teachers have mixed ability classes and can’t do an undergraduate level of work in their classrooms. The objective of leaving certificate economics is not to produce economists per se but rather economically knowledgeable citizens who study this subject as one among many subjects. Teachers and textbook writers are constrained by the 44 year old syllabus, but have to do their best with what they’ve got. So teachers will be rightly annoyed when reading comments about how potentially damaging the current syllabus is in terms of economic understanding.
  2. Third level economics lecturers like Kevin, Aedin and others rightly point out the deficiencies in the current exam content and structure and feel they should have some input into what is taught and why. Both sides agree the syllabus as is is not fit for purpose.

The solution, at least it seems to me, is to take the 2005 revised economics syllabus and update it together in a forum like the business studies teachers’ association, and present that to the NCCA. If everyone was happy enough with it, I don’t see why it couldn’t be rolled out fairly quickly with some inservice training for teachers.

It’s one thing to criticise and point out flaws when they exist, and Kevin and Aedin in particular were right to do so. But if we actually profess to know something about this subject, I think we should have a go at helping teachers to fix those flaws, if we can.

Comments

comments

Author: Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

37 thoughts on “An updated economics syllabus after 44 years would be an asset”

  1. Glad to see curriculum reform on the agenda.

    I think the single biggest issue is that economics doesn’t correctly teach how money is created. Worse still, it teaches nothing of the deletion of money through loan repayments.

    In timely fashion, Gillian Tett wrote a very interesting article in the Financial Times last Thursday in which she debunked the model of banking which most of us assume we have. She explained how contrary to popular belief banks do not take money in from depositors, keep some on reserve and then lend out the rest. Quoting Lord Turner, former chair of the UK Financial Services Authority she writes;

    “Take what banks do. A standard economics text book, Lord Turner writes, claims that banks exist to “raise deposits from savers and then make loans to borrowers” … and “primarily lend to firms/entrepreneurs to fund investment projects”. Thus “demand for money is a crucial issue” in terms of growth. But this depiction is a fiction, he says.”

    As I’ve been pointing out the money multiplier model of banking only applies if every bank loan is processed in cash form and in today’s digital world the model completely breaks down because a loan creates its own ‘deposit’ and there’s nothing to restrict the banks’ lending except their confidence in the system. Tett alludes to this by pointing out that;

    “the size of private credit, relative to GDP, has doubled to 200 per cent in the past 50 years. This makes a mockery of existing textbooks and official policy assumptions.”

    Lord Turner calls for a rethink of the way we imagine the banking system runs:

    “So is there any solution? Lord Turner offers a few ideas. He wants a radical overhaul of the intellectual models that economists use (including, presumably, those in central banks.)”

  2. Something really must be done about the syllabus. I am not sure about “presenting” a new syllabus to the NCCA. For a start, unless they are interested it will be a waste of time. It would be best if they indicated a desire to work with academics on a new syllabus and then take it from there. There should be a seamless transition from second to third level. Ironically, if it was a good up to date syllabus it could make life more difficult for us at third level in that we would have the problem of some students with a good knowledge of the subject and others not.

    Preparing a new syllabus, getting the textbooks in place, filling in the teachers on developments and introducing the syllabus into schools takes a lot of time and effort. Kahneman in his book , Thinking Fast and Slow, gives an example of Israel introducing a second level course on critical thinking which took much longer than expected (about 8 years) and ended up not being used. Its an example of the Planning Fallacy.

    I don’t know if there is some association of economics teachers. It would greatly facilitate communication between second and third level economics teachers. I am happy to talk to folks if there is interest,

    BTW I don’t think teachers can be rightly annoyed by anything I said (though at least one is) since my criticism was all about the exam. That said, the syllabus is (very) old hat. Thats the responsibility of the NCCA and ultimately the Department.

  3. Just one more thing: I suggest that we need to think differently about the standard model of textbooks. For US college students, their standard textbooks for say calculus or “pre-calculus” cost between $100 and $150. It is similar in other disciplines. Faced with this high price, some mathematicians have written what look like good textbooks and put them free to download. I think there are some good free economics texts online. One could try something similar for the Leaving.
    Along with a new syllabus, form a consortium of say three second level teachers and three third level economics teachers. Some of our distinguished but retired colleagues might be interested. This group write the textbook. Put it online for free. It can then be easily updated, in whole or in part, as necessary. Why would they do it? I doubt if you make a lot of money writing textbooks anyway but people still do it. The Department of Education might be persuaded to facilitate sabbaticals for the teachers. The universities might also help out: it’s in their interests to have economics well taught at second level. There are various international foundations and philanthropic bodies which are interested in education that might contribute. The experiment (and that is what it is) would have useful lessons more widely. There are also still rich people in Ireland. And if it worked for economics in the Leaving, it could be expanded to other subjects.
    With more resources one could set up an online resource centre with links to economics in the news, videos, quizzes and so on. Leaving Cert students are already using apps on their phones for other subjects, why not economics? Keeping all this going would be a good joint venture for secondary teachers and academics.

  4. Good for you Kevin!
    If you can get some of your professional colleagues to promise some commitment it would make it a great deal easier for DOE and NCCA to provide some backing. Potentially a transformational experience for all involved and a step to raising standards and expectations of education in Ireland and beyond.

  5. Touching on Paul Ferguson’s and Seafóid’s points: Stephen do you think the curriculum should be expanded to include other schools of thought? Especially given the failure of neoclassical economics in recent times, which has been outperformed by heterodox approaches in terms of the proportion of economists in the respective schools who:
    foresaw the current crisis
    were suspcious of financial deregulation more generally
    warned of the folly of of austerity BEFORE it was implemented, and so on. Perhaps some post-Keynesian critiques could be included.

  6. Robert , this is the Leaving Cert we are talking about. Those issues cannot be addressed in any satisfactory way at that level. I don’t think the question of educating secondary students should therefore get bogged-down in disputes about these issues which are quite subtle. If you want to “teach the controversy” save it till third level.

  7. @Kevin

    Gas – am reading Kahneman at the moment and was going to offer that anecdote. Shows how difficult it is to change a curriculum EVEN when you’ve got a Kahneman on the team!

    Here’s another view of his on the issue of why flaws in classical economics theory (in this case theory-induced blindness wrt prospect theory/Bernoulli’s utility theory) are never mentioned in standard text books.

    “The basic concepts of economics are essential intellectual tools which are not easy to grasp even with simplified and unrealistic assumptions about the nature of the economic agents who interact in markets. Raising questions about these assumptions even as they are introduced would be confusing and perhaps demoralizing. It is reasonable to put priority on helping students acquire the basic tools of the discipline”

    i.e. it’s ok to teach stuff that is wrong in order to grasp the basic theory.

    In my case I read History at TCD but didn’t do it for the Leaving. I’m not sure it would have been much use.

  8. Kevin: Obviously one cannot get into the intricacies of the endogeneity of money at Leaving Cert, but I think students could be made aware that alternative approaches to economics exist – one that doesn’t assume/is predicated on the optimising rational agent.

  9. If you want to “teach the controversy” save it till third level.

    “Teach the controversy” is about creationists and global warming denialists trying to get their quack notions (often mutually incompatible!) which are in defiance of basic biology and physics into schools.

    A dispute between schools of political economic thought it isn’t.

  10. From my understanding of the way in which curriculum reform is meant to work here, the problem lies not with the NCCA but with the Department of Education. A revised curriculum has been available for 8 years now, but the responsibility for its implementation lies with the Department. The NCCA is a fairly small body and does not have the resources required to roll out a new syllabus – it relies on the Department. I have not seen the 2005 syllabus but I would conjecture that it is reasonably up to date. You might want to amend the macro side somewhat to make reference to the recent crisis. I think you could probably also include some references to recent insights from Kahneman, Ariely and the like – my experience is that students tend to like the type of examples which are used to illustrate these insights. Overall, the degree of revision would be pretty minimal, but unless the Department provides the resources I don’t see the 2005 syllabus (with or without minor revisions) appearing soon.

    In the meantime, let’s hope they at least sort out the marking scheme – that does not require an investment of resources, merely an acknowledgement that a problem exists.

  11. Sarah: all models are wrong. They are simplifications but they have their uses. The trick is to know when to deploy them.
    Robert: While I will be teaching the scandalous notion of non rational agents to our 3rd years I have no plans to introduce to 1st years, except maybe as a few casual remarks. Doing it properly would be a big distraction and the ideas, which are really psychology, are subtle.
    EWI: “teach the controversy” precedes all that climate jazz by years and featured in English lit syllabi amongst other places. So there is controversy in Economics and teaching it could be a legitimate approach but not for the Leaving.
    David: As above I’d not introduce behavioural stuff that early, better to do the traditional stuff really well. It’s always tempting to show off one’s new toys to the kids but in the case pas devant les enfants.

  12. I was on the committee that signed off on the New Syllabus for Economics in 2005. That committee had been in operation for twelve years when I joined it in 2004! Such is the pace of progress when it comes to syllabus reform!

    I can assure you that it would need further reform, if a new syllabus were to be introduced today. Not only did we try to modernise the syllabus, but we also considered methods of assessment as well. It was intended in the 2005 Draft to incorporate a Case Study approach to assessment in advance of the final examination, similar to how Eonomics was being assessed in Scotland, for example. Such changes carry implementation costs, something which at the time might not have gone down well with the establishment.

    It is important to note that responsibility for curriculum reform rests with the NCCA. However, the DES maintains close links with the NCCA and bear responsibility for teacher training in respect of new courses. The SEC would be involved in any alteration to the assessment of Economics at Leaving Certificate level.

    I consider it a great shame that a new syllabus has not been implemented at this stage and speak as a teacher of Economics in the current system.

    To kickstart the process again, I suggest knocking at the door of the NCCA and gaining the support of Economics teachers in the BSTAI as well. The rationale for reform has to be based on relevancy to the lives of students (a student centred approach), what educators deem appropriate for this age-level, the demands of the subject itself, and modes of assessment. Universities have a role here of course, but students must come first. Remember, O academics, your job is to teach as well! The tabula rasa approach may not fit the current model of teaching or the current paradigm in education.

    Talking about changing marking schemes is like putting the cart before the horse, of course!

    Finally, it is heartening to hear voices calling for change again! This lovely subject deserves it.

  13. Kevin: I’m not suggesting to incorporate non rational agents within an optimising, and I think essentially, neoclassical framework, but that students are made aware of alternative schools of thought which reject rational AND optimising behaviour as the basis for economic inquiry.

  14. Just curious. Do any of you know how to construct a Concept Map for Economics? – which seamlessly incorporates micro + macro? Not a trivial undertaking. Or do you know if one has already been published?

    The reason I ask is that without such a map, course constructors and deliverers have no idea where they are going, why they are going there, or know that they have arrived at their intended destination. We all use maps and SatNavs? Yes? I thought so! So, lets see a Concept Map for Economics before any of you venture out into the Irish educational landscape. It really is Angola!

    My (not so recent) experiences with LC science syllabi were that content quantity trumped content quality. And, as I have mentioned previously, that infantile and patronizing requirement for H and O Level course programmes. Its the politics of the thing, I presume. Rather than the need to have an intellectually meaningful course programme.

    And please, never sacrifice accuracy – no matter how appealing the sentimental reasoning for doing so. If a pupil (or student) ever incorporates a misconception – its there forever (well almost!).

    A successful Rule-of-Thumb in constructing any course programme of modest accuracy, is to write up your syllabus – using your Concept Map as guide. Then tear the entire document in half, and in half again. Now toss away three of the ‘halfs’ – and what you have left: teach that!

    And always remember, though it may be difficult at times, young folk are not dumb, but they sure are different!

    @ SLTL: Hi, there! “Such changes carry implementation costs …” I fancy not as costly as our ‘bail-out’ programmes! Funny that! Or maybe not so funny when you get to thinking (slowly) about it.

  15. Agree with a lot of the points raised about the economics syllabus.

    Another issue to do with Leaving Cert economics is the fall in number of people taking the subject. I began to notice the drop off about 10 years ago in our students who had studied economics before starting college.

    This has probably to do with its perception as a difficult subject where achieving points is the ultimate Leaving Cert goal.

    In 2008 only 6,712 students took Economics, compared with 10,079 for Accountancy and 24,190 taking the Business studies.

    Perhaps a change in the syllabus would renew interest in what could be a fascinating subject for students.

  16. FWIW Stephen and I are working on a hopefully soon to be revealed initiative which will, in part, overlap with this

  17. A comment on this focus on the syllabus.

    I am interested in history, but I have found myself over the last few years having to keep my mouth zipped on the subject in front of my kids studying at junior cycle. A lot of what they were taught was factually incorrect or displayed a severe lack of contextual understanding. However, it was clearly what my kids were expected to regurgitate in exams, and when I attempted some minor corrections this caused far more stress than it was worth.

    The problem is not the syllabus, which is quite good, if overly eurocentric. It is not in the Guidelines for teachers, which are also quite good, if eurocentric.

    The big problem that I see is is in the textbooks. The one that comes to hand has frequent scatterings of factual errors – both misconceptions traditional to Irish education like the arrival of Celts in Ireland around 500BC and gobsmacking bloopers like the Roman army going unbeaten for hundreds of years (and an entertaining map showing Constantinople in 120AD).

    Worse is the lack of balance in many areas. Under the “Impact of the Portugese exploration”, for example, one would expect to see a reference to the their partially successful attempt to seize control of all Indian Ocean trade by force, and one would hope that a comment on breaking “Muslim control of the spice trade” would have been corrected in line with the account in Findley and Kevin O’Rourke’s Power and Plenty. Similarly, it seems off the wall that the account of Christopher Columbus’s exploits would omit his genocidal slaving activities, while taking up space perpetrating traditional myths about his career. To focus on something more modern, one of the oddities of the account of WWII is that the description of the German invasion of France does not recount how the Germans suckered the French and British into concentrating their forces in the north to defend the Netherlands and Belgium, allowing the planned German armoured breakthrough in the Ardennes to cut them off from the rest of France.

    Unlike economics, history is a major subject at second level. The syllabus at Junior Cycle is not bad. That textbooks are a big problem cannot be the full story. Teachers seem to be prepared to teach what is in them. Examiners seem to be prepared to accept their content as full and accurate answers to questions. If a decent syllabus does not solve the problem in history, I don’t see how it could be the answer in economics either. The more important issues must be tackling textbooks and teacher retraining.

  18. Secondary school students do not need courses in economics. What they do need is an overview of economics, comparative economics with particular emphasis on the ideological biases driving what is supposedly a scientific subject.
    Of great, use would be to compare reports issued by Central Banks, retail/wholesale banks, stockbrokers, IMF, OECD, ECB and of course business associations and Government itself.

    Here is a paper that mentions physics envy.

    http://www.irpp.org/en/po/the-age-of-man/the-decline-of-canadian-economics/

  19. Stephen,

    I don’t know the first thing about this issue. I was standing in Easons several years ago, and I did visit the pile of books for Leaving Cert students on economics students, and leafed my way through one of the text books on offer. What struck me most of all, was this idea, if I was a teacher of economics in secondary school, . . . that I would have to get cracking very fast, in just wading through all of the chapters in the book, which they expect students to know.

    It is just a general comment about my vague memories of second level education in Ireland, but it is like a whole mountain falls on top of you. So it becomes less and less about understanding any of the stuff, and much more about retaining stuff, and hoping to cherry pick the stuff that ‘might come up’, and just learning off stock answers to those bits (for better or for worse, many students will not look far beyond some version of that strategy).

    Looking at it from a lecturer’s point of view further down the line, at third level stages, they find themselves standing in front of a classroom full of students (I finished a second undergraduate course in construction economics, or Quantity Surveying, as it is known this year, . . I actually finished the whole thing this time around), . . . the lecturers in third level have to field questions from their class like, ‘Miss, Teacher, which part should we learn?’

    (This is normally followed by some version of the third level lecturer trying to explain to the classroom, that learning it off, won’t be effective, . . . but in spite of that, the kids try to persevere with the old learn off strategy that they got in secondary school, . . and hope that the lecturers will be forced into a submission, like the teachers were back in their old high schools.

    Because, at some way back along the line, a secondary school system ‘threw the in the towel’, and accepted the reality that the best way to PREPARE their students to have a springboard in life, was to learn off the textbook, and point score as much as possible. So it seemed to me looking at the existing Leaving Cert economics textbook a few years back, that from a secondary school teacher’s perspective, their only hope would be to fling chapter after chapter of that stuff, each week at their class, and hope to plough through the book from one end to the other. And that was their side of the deal dispensed with, so to speak.

    And that’s fine.

    But lets not assume, that the legacy of that, isn’t going to be something other than having a classroom full of young people who move one stage further down the road in education, to what we call ‘third level’, and try to pursue the exact same strategy there. Find the fattest, thickest textbook, and plough their way through it. And this is why also, we have such an artificially high demand in Ireland for fourth level programs such as Masters and PHd’s.

    Not because we are any brighter or better in Ireland, than we are anywhere else in the world, or that Irish students have more of a hunger and thirst for knowledge. But the Masters or PHd program now, at third level institutes is about the only place left along the whole line, where the students can finally stop to take a breath, and actually learn about what writing English is all about. Learn about what the concepts really are. Because, unless one gets to a fourth level of education, the idea is to ‘block’ oneself from understanding anything, and just learn it all.

    In the innovative-centric reality of today, the one of social media and online companies, I can’t even begin to describe how inappropriate our current conveyor belt system has become in terms of preparing people for the challenges that they will face in a real workplace. In fact, having spoken to a lot of fourth level students know, I definitely notice a pressure placed upon third level institutions to turn fourth level into another ‘profit centre’ to increase student number through-put in colleges, and fourth level has even started to become a bit of a cattle market also.

    At some point along the whole system, it needs to get re-evaluated, what exactly we are trying to achieve, and what skills that we hope to furnish the upcoming generations with. At present, the education mission statement is all over the place. BOH.

  20. @ All,

    I mean, out of frustration with the lackluster construction industry (or lack thereof) in the country at the moment, . . . and this de facto assumption, that the emigration, fly-out-of-the-country stock solution for all our graduates nowadays, . . . is supposed to be something that will suit every Irish citizen of a certain age, maturity and qualification level (export the ‘problem’), . . I began to look at some of the JOBS THAT ARE REALLY OUT THERE, and assemble together the bits of technical add-on skills that are necessary to graft on to basic professional education, in order to get any job today.

    I mean, these jobs that get announced in the news media, and are still out of reach of many third level graduates even, who have to leave the country as a result.

    A lot of jobs do require some level of innovation on the part of an individual to combine together ICT skills with their core vocation, be it business, or design, or legal or whatever. It’s a technological based universe these days, and becoming more so in every sector. But our education seems intent on running in the opposite direction.

    What the current very challenging job environment does require, is a level of adaptation on the part of individuals, to be able to extend their skillset (not upwards to fourth level as such), but sort of laterally, by bringing to the basic degree that they have won, some things that are from the digital and ICT age.

    Increasingly, to gain work, graduates have to be able to graft what they obtained in ‘third level’ on to other things after leaving third level. And it becomes harder to do the same, when one has a ‘learning off’ policy embedded in our education system, all up along.

    Working in a digital age, takes no more than bringing ancient ideas and putting them through a ‘filter’ of sorts, so as to create machine-readable language, that will operate out there in the real world of 2013.

    In today’s Ireland, where the jobs are often in technological and innovative companies, we don’t manage that transition very well, where fresh young graduates come out and need to adapt. And more fourth level is the answer to some problem, but not specifically the answer to this one. And unfortunately, fourth level has been foisted upon us, as a solution, when it really is not effective.

    I think this, more than anything, is why we see more young people leaving on the airplanes, because we aren’t providing them with choices, so that they can legitimately say, they can have the confidence to get that job in Google, or Facebook, or Twitter. And it doesn’t matter how many happy Morning Ireland, or The News at One, stories we announce about a hundred new jobs in social media or something, because for the vast majority of young professional graduates, that job is still a bridge much too far. BOH.

  21. @ All,

    Final ‘big’ idea on education from me.

    We have a whole vast network of ‘Institutes of Technology’ around Ireland, set up at enormous cost to the nation, which are often co-located in cities and centres beside full university third level campuses.

    I would imagine, that if we were to create an alternative to standard progression, to ‘fourth level’ education in Ireland (doing the proverbial Masters and adding to the tonnage of academic literature already on the shelves across the nation), . . . and if we were absolutely serious and intent upon capitalizing most on the knowledge economy, . . . then we would establish the ‘Institutes of Technology’ network that we have created in Ireland, at such enormous expense, . . . to create that sort of ‘second wash’ cycle, or after-rinse, or whatever one likes to call it, . . . that is needed, in order to prepare our professional graduates for this very digital oriented, foreign direct investment focused Irish economic reality, that we ourselves moulded through generations of domestic policy.

    That is my big idea, and radical step to curb unemployment and reverse outward emigration of young people. Unfortunately though, our parliament is stocked to the rafters with folk who as a collective, still do not get it. Bad, bad, bad. BOH.

  22. Great idea Stephen. Would be happy to help out. The curriculum also needs to be developed to inform students of European policymaking, and how this constrains and shapes political decision-making in Ireland. Most students leave school thinking ‘Europe’ is a concept beyond the shores of Ireland.

  23. Aidan
    I haven’t seen any significant references to Europe in the exam papers. I don’t recall seeing much or anything about the internet/computers. Both of these factors of course are hugely important. That is one reason why looking at the exam paper is like time travelling back to the 1960s. There isn’t even a proper macroeconomics section, more a genuflection to Keynes. What does it take for the Department to move on this?
    There are regular questions about the history of thought e.g. Malthus, Smith, Keynes. While you can learn a lot from these guys it seems nuts that these should be on the syllabus to the exclusion of the really important factors. Is it any wonder that the numbers taking it have fallen so much?

  24. Do you need a pan-Irish written syllabus at all?

    Without it, it requires some more work from the lecturers, no doubt.

    Max Planck once said, science progresses one funeral at a time.

    Even in pretty closed and undisputed areas like theoretical electrodynamics, a friend of mine spent significant time to prepare his lectures, thinking and trying.

    Fluid curriculums evolve over time, some new things come up, biophysics, some older diminish in importance.

    A quarter century ago, I gave my first lectures “math for physicists”, being myself in 4th semester (formally a big no no before Vordiplom II : – ), a voluntary, 7:30 am slot the administration bast…rds gave me, who would never go to a lecture before 9 on principle ….
    but 70 people showed up over the full course.

    I do not recall to get or seek ANY advice from faculty on what and how to teach.

  25. Francis, I’m not sure I understand what you are getting at. This syllabus is taken by 16-18 year olds around the country. While economics is pretty international, econ101 is much the same around the world, it would be essential to take account of local features and circumstances. For example the European dimension is important as indeed is the Irish. Students relate to Irish issues more easily. I imagine the equivalent is true in Germany. After all, we want students to be able to use economics to make sense of the world around them.
    While there is no such thing as an Irish electron, it doesn’t work that way in social sciences.

  26. kevin,

    I am getting, thanks to asking and your reply, to that I was not told any of those things as an 18 year old, 30 years ago.

    It makes me looking at what is told nowadays, here, to whom.

  27. I didn’t study economics at second level. In my secondary school there was a huge mathematics and science bias and subjects such as economics and accounting were regarded as ‘joke’ subjects and only those who weren’t intelligent enough took them for the Leaving Certificate. You could study Physics or Economics, and Accounting or Chemistry. When I went to TCD to study an engineering type course we were ‘forced’ to take Junior Freshman ‘Introduction to Economics’ taught by Prof. Louden Ryan using Paul Samuelson’s textbook. I found I loved Economics and what I liked about it was that it was something you could have a discussion or or an argument on unlike science and mathematics subjects. I changed courses and ended up taking a BA (Mod.) in Economics.

    Years later I studied for a Masters in UCD. One of the American lecturers on the course complained that the first thing all Irish students asked him was “What parts of the course can I leave out?”. He told them they couldn’t leave out any part. He also regularly stopped the class to ask for students’ opinions only to see even the most intelligent slink back in their chairs. Class interaction and debate is not a part of the Irish student’s arsenal. I have found this at every course I have ever taken right up to the present day.

  28. Elia wrote,

    “What parts of the course can I leave out?”.

    I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to return to education and study for a Level 09 degree as we call it here, a Masters. But I was fortunate enough recently, to be able to get my first ever Level 08 degree, at almost age forty. So I can’t complain.

    But for most of the three to four years that I sat in classrooms with students who were sometimes half my age nearly – what Elia describes above, was the most common thing that I heard too. I am sure that it was there twenty odd years ago, when I was a struggling young freshman, . . . and this is a complex issue with a lot of sides to it. The young people nowadays are excellent and hard working in so many ways. But there is something there around that issue that Elia describes, which deserves some more serious attention, than a casual observer such as myself could do.

    There is data that could and ought to be collected on this, by the universities themselves. It is deserving of serious analysis, on the part of third level institutions, in terms of coming up with an overall policy, to join together first level, second level, third level and fourth levels, . . . and basically find out, what it is we are attempting to create with our education program? BOH.

  29. Elia wrote,

    “He also regularly stopped the class to ask for students’ opinions only to see even the most intelligent slink back in their chairs”.

    Yeah. That’s it.

    It isn’t the weaker half of the class, but also the most intelligent who do use the same strategy (sometimes even more so). It’s like the thing about ‘political capital’. If one isn’t going to use it, then what is it there for? An ornament. Similarly with our brightest and best. There is too much parading around of ‘look at my big brain’, . . . and not enough actual use of brains, of all sizes, . . . in our culture.

    The thing is, when it comes to getting that job in social media, the high tech quarter in Dublin, again, even someone with an average brain, if they could demonstrate a willingness and confidence to use it, and apply their brainpower to things, it would help them land that job. Our education however, is running in an opposite direction, which isn’t suited to modern employment prospects. The ‘safe’ option is to jump on the plane to the southern hemisphere or north America for sure, because we have great education. However, the high risk option might be to remain in Ireland and become involved in re-building a domestic economy, and it is the road less traveled. What is behind that motivation, or lack thereof, needs to get figured out somehow.

  30. @ Elia: If you studied Samuelson’s Economics – then you were indeed lucky. Really good text. Though at 600+ pages – a tad daunting. No matter.

    “He also regularly stopped the class to ask for students’ opinions only to see even the most intelligent slink back in their chairs.”

    This is known in the ‘trade’ as ‘The Grand Silence’. Teacher asks question: students stay quite.

    The ‘trick’ is to out-silence your students. You just sit down and stay quite – for as long as three or four minutes if necessary. Just say, “I’m waiting”. The students get very edgy after 1 or 2 minutes. If there is (eventually) no response from the students, the instructor just moves on and quips, “Hope that question is not on your exam!”. Now you get a response!

    Students will pull this stunt as long as they ‘know’ the instructor will answer her own questions. However, once they know that no answer will be forthcoming, they will, very reluctantly, attempt some answers. Its a really funny and psychologically interesting interlude.

    @ francis: Are faculty required to have a formal third-level teaching qualification in D-Land? None is required in Ir-Land!

    @ BO’H: Being a ‘mature’ student is a quite interesting (in a quirky sense) experience. I had great fun.

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