A case for economic literacy

18th November 2011 at 00:00

The impact of the economic crisis is like that of a tsunami, sweeping aside democratic governments and bringing structural changes which raise serious questions about the future of Europe and democracy. As the bond markets are stress-testing the political structures in Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal, this enormous upheaval is stress-testing Scottish schools.

The role of our education system is to equip students to have a clear understanding of the world they live in and to function in ways that will lead to Scotland becoming a more effective and efficient nation. Curriculum for Excellence has made many claims about what can be achieved by curricular changes, but I suspect pupils are not being equipped with the tools to understand what is driving this economic crisis and what it could bring.

In 2010, 382 candidates sat Higher economics and I know this subject has been seen to have a reduced relevance in the crowded curriculum of S5 and S6. This is at odds with the importance of economic literacy for those now in school and those who have recently left: how much sense are they making of the economic causes of the current crisis? Do they know what is meant by GDP, inflation, deflation, currency fluctuations, bonds?

Our First Minister, as an economist, would not struggle with these questions, but is our system equipped to deal with the challenges of the next few years? I am sure that there will be a real desire on the part of pupils to know what impact this will have on their lives and careers.

There are other reasons to advocate a higher profile for economic literacy and see it as a key part of CfE: can we justify the paradox of nations' affairs being controlled by unelected elites, who are imposing austerity measures in Italy and Greece without a democratic mandate? This challenges the idea of democratic accountability and raises the prospect of civil unrest.

Europe is changing and the economic forces are driving it towards a re- alignment of which countries will be part of the Euro and the emergence of Germany as the key driver in all of this.

We need to look at our curriculum and see if it is serving the needs of pupils to be informed citizens, able to participate in a democratic Scotland. After all, the founder of modern economic theory was a laddie from Kirkcaldy called Adam Smith!

John P Rae, Bothwell, Glasgow.

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