Business education

30th March 2001 at 01:00
BRITANNIC STREET. Britannic Assurance. Free resource pack including video, CD-Rom and teacher's guide Tel: 0870 333 0414.

MONEY AND MORALS. Jewish Association for Business Ethics. Teacher's and student pack pound;50. Photocopiable student pack pound;25. Video pound;15.

What do we mean by business education? There are those who see its role as vocational: a practical preparation for life in the economic community. Others see a more academic approach, one that questions some of the ways we choose to organise production, consumption and distribution.

There is no reason why these two approaches should be mutually exclusive, and what might be termed "academic" GCSE courses in business studies ensure that practical realities such as deductions for tax and National Insurance do not come as a surprise when students start work.

But while such courses are popular, they are not universal, which begs the question, how do young people come to discover the economic facts of life? The unfortunate reality is that personal debt often results from a lack of relevant education.

Britannic Street is Britannic Assurance's attempt to prepare young people for adult life. Its free multimedia resource pack comes with video, CD-Rom, website, teacher's guide, glossary of financial terms and student activities with answers.

The course starts from the video, which is unashamedly based on a soap format. The storyline centres on the out-of-school concerns of seven young people, with the usual array of spendthrift teenagers aspiring to pop group stardom, international travel and sports-car ownership, based on earnings from part-time jobs in hamburger joints and baby-sitting. In that respect reality is recreated, but disbelief is stretched by the student who (a) budgets meticulously (b) saves money and (c) recognises that (a) and (b) together add up to another year's wait for a dream trip to Florida, in contrast to her friend, who will, as in real life, get the money from her mum.

While the video is at times naive and steretypical, the follow-up work on the CD-Rom is challenging and well presented. It offers spreadsheets that input calculations straight into the computer, while supporting printed booklets cover budgeting, saving, borrowing and wage slips. As well as the business angle, key skills are also covered.

One question the pack fails to ask is why Britannic should offer this pack free to schools. Such a question might raise issues that would centre strongly in Money and Morals, produced by the Jewish Association for Business Ethics.

Here is the other end of the academicvocational spectrum; the material is aimed at PSHE and citizenship courses, although there is clear relevance to economics, business studies and RE.

The course consists of six topics: advertising, competition, the world of work, cheating, bribery and social responsibility. Each of the units challenges students to confront their perceptions and ethical positions.

Topics are explored through case studies that lead to questions on the material and its implications. Follow-up work uses other cases and newspaper articles to explore issues in depth.

This is a thoughtful, intellectual approach to the world of business. It asks fundamental questions that students should be encouraged to address while in school, and helps them develop a personal ethical position rather than one derived from parental, social or peer pressure.

It is a pity the term "opportunity cost" is not discussed anywhere, because it applies to many of the scenarios in both packs. It is also relevant to teachers trying to decide on which type - the vocational or academic - to use. Should they concentrate on teaching what an endowment policy is, for example, or how it might be "mis-sold"? Resolving such dilemmas lies at the heart of teacher professionalism, and as one of these resource is "free" and the other far from cheap, yet another dilemma has to be faced.

David Lines David Lines is lecturer in business education at the Institute of Education, University of London

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