Mechanics make way for the new thoughtfulness

21st April 1995 at 01:00
Teaching and Learning the New Economics, By Barry McCormick and Chris Vidler Edited by Linda Thomas, Heinemann Pounds 5.95. 0 435 33100 0

Core Economics Evaluation Pack (containing Core Economics and Core Economics, A Teacher's Guide), By the Economics and Business Education Association Heinemann Pounds 19.99. 0 435 33103 5

From the outset, the Economics and Business Education Association's 16-19 Project aimed to influence both what is taught at this level and how it is taught. Although the main focus, inevitably, was A-level economics, it was hoped that the teaching of economics in all contexts would be influenced. These books are the most tangible outcome of the project but by no means its only one. The SCAA core for economics A-level, and hence all syllabuses, have taken note of submissions by the Association and GNVQ syllabuses have been similarly influenced.

Teaching and Learning the New Economics reports the outcomes of the first stage of the project which considered both content and teaching methods. The critique of the current state of the subject is, to some extent, over-critical of current practice, much of which is not far removed from what is suggested in the main text. However, many teachers will find themselves in agreement with their criticisms of the "mechanical" content, "requiring only that students learn some models".

The most interesting idea put forward in this book is that of "economic thoughtfulness". Methods of assessment often encourage the learning of "fragmented bits of information" rather than "skills of analysis, interpretation and manipulation and a disposition to thoughtfulness (. . . a persistent desire that claims be supported by reasons, a tendency to be reflective rather than impulsive, and intellectual curiosity and flexibility)". Recommendations are made for how this may be achieved and the material in Core Economics conforms to them.

Most of the project members initially envisaged producing packs of materials such as the Association had produced as a result of the 14-16 project in the mid-1980s. However, Heinemann, who were major sponsors of the project, wished to produce a textbook. The outcome is more a workbook than a traditional textbook and does not take the place of a textbook. It does, however, form a useful adjunct to a textbook and could be used as a course book. It is likely that teachers will pick and choose various sections of the book to suit their own courses. The change in A-level syllabuses will also encourage teachers to look for new sources of ideas; this book will prove most timely in this respect.

The editors have done an impressive job in taking the diverse contributions and giving the book a feeling of coherence. The content is generally good. The exercises are based on data taken from newspapers and similar sources. Students are asked comprehension questions or have to apply economic principles explained in "analysis" boxes. Some questions, however, are facile and seem intended only to make the student read the material. The level of analysis provided in "analysis" boxes is, at times, below the usual level, and it is here that teachers and brighter students will reach for the traditional textbook. Perhaps, in the desire not to fill the book with mechanical models, the basic framework that economists use to analyse the world has been lost.

There are also topics covered in this book that many textbooks omit. The units on health, the environment, transport and comparative performance will be welcomed.

Core Economics will also be useful on other courses. The Teacher's Guide points out which sections are appropriate in A-level business studies and GNVQ business advanced courses as well as tying in the units to the SCAA core for A-level economics. In addition, the Teacher's Guide gives a brief commentary on each unit detailing what the unit is about, how it is organised and what students are asked to do.

The work of the project has already had an influence on exam syllabuses. Through Core Economics it is destined to influence the way the subject is taught. These books should find a place in every economics department in schools and colleges and be widely used.

Tim Mason is head of economics at King Edward's School, Birmingham and was a member of the Midlands Regional Development Group of the Economics

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