Learn from the credit crunch

Brian Monteith

To say that we are living through interesting times might normally be a cliche, but what's happening around us now will end up in the history books - if, in 2058, they are still teaching such subjects in Scottish schools.

The credit crunch is snapping at our heels - and about to bring on the mother of all recessions. Our banks - once household names for prudence, decorum and conservatism - are falling prey to their own profligacy, greed and liberalism. Great Britain, whether you consider it great or not, is only a forthcoming referendum away from breaking in two, with consequences we cannot really foresee.

Then, the United States, as I write, is about to confound Fidel Castro's view of capitalist America and elect a black man as president.

I thought I had lived through momentous times in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (the 1990s seemed an anti-climax after that) before these huge events in the first decade of our new millennium. The naughty noughties? How apt.

It got me thinking about how this credit crunch will impact upon Scottish education. What difference might it make to schools, the curriculum, pupils and teachers?

For schools, the credit crunch could mean that the latest rebuilding programme will be the last for a good while. Suddenly, the debates on PFI, PPP, the Scottish Futures Trust (or no Scottish Futures Trust the likeliest outcome) don't matter.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop could announce a new curriculum, one that would be relevant for our times. Modern history could consider the political fallout - how great powers waxed and waned, how President George Bush and his party were felled; how "no boom and bust" Prime Minister Gordon Brown metamorphosed from indecisive failure to a commanding saint when the crisis broke, only for the recession that his large clunking fist had a hand in to cast him as sinner again. All in 12 short months.

Biology could teach what a metamorphism is. Home economics could equip pupils with the knowledge of how to cook for oneself, which can actually lead to a healthy, yet inexpensive, life.

Taking recipes just a tad further, mathematics could also include how to cook the books, how to double count - or at least how to use statistics to blind us with the notion that economic growth never ends.

And economics could actually teach how the sub-prime market came about. After all, it's not as if it was always with us; it is a modern invention and it has real reasons for evolving, not here, but in Jimmy Carter's USA.

Teachers could explain how President Carter's legislative interventions - forcing previously tight bankers to become louche with their depositors' money by lending to mortgage applicants from statistically disadvantaged economic groups, creating what we now know as "sub-prime" loans - were the beginning of the debasement of old, understandable values.

President Bill Clinton added to this policy of making mortgages easier for those who might normally be termed "bad risk" because of their financial circumstances. With such debt taken on board by a few, the spreading of it to the rest of the world's banks through its securitisation - selling it on in smaller bundles to other banks as a source of income that would never be realised - is a technique that could keep business studies teachers in work for a generation.

Unfortunately, although the prospects for teachers might seem good (whatever happens at this historic moment, pupils will need to learn about it), this new curriculum could be delayed through lack of resources. The Scottish Government might not have the money to employ the teachers. In a credit crunch, it's a natch.

Brian Monteith believes there's no such thing as a free lunch, especially when he's paying

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Brian Monteith

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