Review of Leaving Certificate Economics

Drs Aedin Doris, Kevin Denny and I wrote a response to the consultation paper on the review of leaving cert economics for the Irish Economic Association.

The consultation paper is here (.pdf). The response is here (.pdf). 

By Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

8 replies on “Review of Leaving Certificate Economics”

It seems to me that the design of the curriculum in this subject, as in many others, is far too ambitious. Do we really expect 17 or 18 year olds to have grasped the underlying concepts involved in the sixteen (16!) units listed in the curriculum?
The syllabus strikes me as having been compiled by someone who felt he or she should include every economic concept he or she had ever encountered. Students who give intelligent answers in all of these areas should be encouraged to apply for the vacancy as Governor of the Central Bank.
What about aiming to get students to understand the basic economic issues involved in issues such as, dare I say it, imposing charges for water usage? Or the choices facing the Minister for Finance ahead of Budget 2016? Or the current concern about increasing income inequality? Or the Dublin housing crisis?
Most of the students taking the economics LC paper do not aspire to becoming professional / academic economists, so let’s aspire to making them more economically literate rather than trying to get them to cover a watered-down version of the university syllabus.

The most important important words mentioned in all of this are ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’. People (incl. students) have to be problem solvers, they have to think critically and they have to challenge the assumptions on which they act.

This process is lacking in the irish education system at present, but its great to see it at least mentioned here.

What?! No mention of Corbynomics? The traditional neoclassical model of economics was commandeered and mercilessly abused by the corporate capitalist class, by private equity and hedge fund operators and by high wealth individuals – and the armies of well-heeled advisers, consultants, tame academics and the other lackeys they retain. A number of other powerful special interest groups were also permitted to get their snouts in the trough. But the model was holed below the waterline in 2008 and those who benefitted from its application, not surprisingly, are adamantly opposed to the thorough overhaul that is required. This overhaul will be imposed politically – and that is what we are beginning to see with Corbynomics in Britain.

However, in Ireland, with Labour facing the political kicking it so thoroughly deserves and various unreconstructed left-wing, pseudo left-wing and make-believe left-wing factions fighting like cats there is no possibility the seriously flawed Irish version of this model will get the overhaul it requires. However, it will be interesting to see the impact of Corbynomics on left-wing politics on the continent.

Well done to the authors of the IEA response. About 20 years ago I (wearing my IEA hat) attended a meeting of the NCCA (or its predecessor) and the various stakeholders on the subject of a new LC Economics curriculum. The main stakeholders appeared to be the teacher unions. Apart from that it was a totally depressing and futile experience with just about any significant change meeting niggling objections from someone.

The curriculum was inadequate then, and it’s much worse now. One of the things which impressed me was the way in which the Northern Ireland A level curriculum was obviously the product of people well educated in Economics – I had better stop there!

What struck me at the time was how vast was the scope of the LC Economics curriculum, even though it was one of 6 or 7 subjects taken at LC compared with about half that number for A level. The structure of the Queensland curriculum shown in the NCCA document is particularly interesting in that there are 4 Core modules and the a choice of between 4 and 6 electives. The strategy should be to get basic and widely-applicable concepts covered in the core elements and then applied as appropriate in electives.

There are of course huge issues in terms of good competently written textbooks and also teacher training and re-training.

I bet that change will be implemented by 2020 at the earliest!

Oddly enough, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was, comparatively speaking, inadequate coverage of agricultural economics, and entrepreneurship, in popular Irish economic discourse.

“The reasons for the unpopularity of the macroeconomics questions are not clear: Is it that students
just don’t like macroeconomics and choose other questions? Is it that students consider the questions
as more difficult? Does it relate to lack of confidence surrounding the analysis of the current economic
situation? Is it that questions relating to this area of the syllabus might not be as predictable as other
questions? ”

Most teenagers’ exposure to macro (real world as opposed to classroom) is listening to politicians incoherently squabbling with eachother about it – each understanding little, but being determined to repeat whatever sound-bite the focus groups have revealed resonates with their political base.

It sounds like nonsense to most of them (rightly).

Micro tends to be intuitive and even obvious.

Which would you be inclined towards if you were trying to score marks?

Just by way of an observation, Yvette Cooper (who has a posh degree, a third of which is in economics, from a posh college) told Jeremy Corbyn that “we cannot print money we don’t have” the other day in front of a national TV audience.

LC standard?

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