Your hand in their future;Subject of the week;Economics and business

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
Firing the imagination of future economics students is the key to the subject's success, and it's all up to you, writes Stephen Holroyd

You have all known for years about the decrease in numbers of students choosing to take economics at A-level, and chances are this has been your own experience. But it doesn't have to be like that. Although we have faced a stimulating challenge from business studies, our subject still has a bright future.

There are many notable exceptions to the rule. Some schools have maintained numbers over the past decade, with around 25 per cent of sixth-form pupils choosing economics. Others have large, thriving departments less than 10 years old.

How can you attract more pupils?

Nearly all your pupils come to you lacking any previous formal experience of the subject. Play on this. Many arrive at their A-level choices disaffected with their pedagogical experiences of other subjects. You can offer them a fresh start with new teachers and a subject that promises a challenging new set of experiences rather than an extension of familiar material.

Your teaching must be enthusiastic and charismatic, represent a break with past experiences and encourage curiosity. Remember that your present pupils are the advisers of your future pupil stock. What activities put you in contact with GCSE pupils? Post-GCSE taster-courses are often a good way to introduce pupils to the subject or persuade floating voters to see the light.

All pupils already have an understanding of the basic principles of economics. One key to inspiring pupils is enabling them to see this. Economists are often, quite rightly, accused of using language and behaving in a way that excludes people. As teachers we do this at our peril.

The new generation of syllabuses has ditched much that was too abstract, esoteric and downright irrelevant, and the thrust of teaching must be the application of ideas to the real world. There are plenty of interactive IT models that are great learning tools.

Are you teaching the subject in a way that makes pupils see it as relevant? Has there ever been so much economics out there for people to play with? Perhaps more importantly, pupils need to see the relevance of economics in terms of the intellectual skills it gives them.

Economics is a mature, concept-based subject that develops high-level analytical and evaluative skills and the ability to make informed value judgments about hotly debated issues - skills that any A-level student or university applicant requires. In some schools up to 25 per cent of university applications are for economics-related courses, and economics provides a broader theoretical base for business courses at university than the business studies A-level.

The subject's attractions have not diminished, but we have all faced the challenge of business studies. Out in the real world economics is thriving. How are you inspiring the economists of tomorrow?

Stephen Holroyd teaches economics at Malvern College

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