How to teach economics to millennials, Gen Z

Published: December 10, 2018 12:53 AM

Is it tough? Or is it easy? How can the economics faculty reinvent itself?

From simplistic ratios and today’s cost-benefit analyses, the role of economics, as a subject of study, must be uplifted to that of an engine of contemporary solutions

By Indradeep Ghosh

The need to transform both the learning process and the thought process behind economics stems from the lack of proper knowledge and insights that plagued the economic sectors during the financial crisis of 2008. The massive crisis and its consequences pressed the flag-bearers of the discipline to step out of their comfort zones and create an all-encompassing, multidimensional approach to creating economic pedagogies. As a result of this transformation, students will be able to hone the ability to go beyond convention and find solutions to actual problems being faced by the society in an efficient manner. To put it simply, the fundamental thought and learning process that currently guides economics education needs to change. From simplistic ratios and cost-benefit analyses, the role of economics, as a subject of study, must be uplifted to that of an engine of contemporary solutions.

Traditionally, economics, as a subject, has received a majorly deductive approach, dominated by logical and mathematical reasoning. However, this methodology has received widespread criticism as the subject of study boils down to human behaviour, no aspect of which is constant or linear. How, then, is an approach guided by simplified models and their deduction enough to understand the vast amalgamation of cultural and social tenets that is economics? Critics lay down a strong reasoning against the current economic teaching landscape.

Evincing dialogical thinking, which involves prolonged exchange of dialogue around the intricacies of each concept, is the only solution to the current economic teaching lag. The conventional method of learning is evidently unequipped to inculcate the necessary skills required to remain relevant in today’s economic landscape. Phenomenon-based learning, a method that addresses each concept from several points of reference, allows students to understand real world events from a multidisciplinary viewpoint.

This unorthodox method of teaching has been exemplified by several economists, while creating pedagogies for theories including institutional-evolutionary, Marxist-radical, feminist, ecological and social economics. Their guiding pedagogies were inspired by the humanities and various other social sciences. While trying to forge a common ground of interdependence between theories, the pedagogical process also did not nullify incommensurability and contestability among them.

Through a transformed approach of teaching economics, discourse will turn to dialogue while lessons will develop into conversations. The resultant method of economic education will allow students to accept the versatile nature of world-views, while widening their prospective pertaining to various concepts. The new-age economical pedagogy essentially caters to a global economy, one that is characterised by interactions between diverse cultures. Economists of tomorrow must be equipped with the right skills to act as channels that can make these interactions unmistakably productive. These skills comprise critical thinking across numerous constructs and concepts.

An example of a multidimensional work based on economics is ‘The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating A Caring Economics’ (2008) by Riane Eisler. It expertly comments on the society’s productive capacity based on its caregivers, a role that is typically assumed by people of colour and women in the West. Such multi-definitional works will define the future economic classroom that is based on discussion and an amalgamation of diverging themes such as racial politics and gender into the potential of economics. A more diverse perspective on current issues is just what the economic classroom requires in the current scenario.

With a differentiated method of economical thinking dominating the subject, the classroom will evolve from a sermon of theoretical convention to a proactive commune of thinkers who can bring in their own experiences to enhance learning. This method of teaching will encourage critical thinking and contrast between academia and the behaviour of humans stemming from real-world interactions. Tomorrow’s economic modules will then emphasise on the research rather than merely finding the solution. The inherent journey of searching for the solution will be more integral than the solution itself. Students will be able to engage social realities in order to approach each economic problem with numerous possibilities to open novel avenues in economics, based pivotally on the prolific exchange of dialogue.

-The author is associate professor and dean (Faculty), Meghnad Desai Academy Of Economics, Mumbai. Views are personal

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