Me and My City – an Experiential Method for Learning Economics for primary school students

Author: Panu Kalmi, Professor of Economics, University of Vaasa

You are the CEO of one of the largest European paper companies. After the day is done, you ask your controller to deposit the revenue your company has produced into a local bank. On your way back home, you stop by the supermarket to buy a chocolate bar. Your teacher gives you an appreciative nod.

26160368651_7edbccc2a5_oWhat’s going on here? The answer is Me and My City (http://yrityskyla.fi/en/), a learning environment for the Finnish 6th graders. Finland has an educational system which is world-famous thanks to its good performance in PISA rankings. However, economics education has been slow in development. For primary school students especially, until recently there were no courses available. The situation changed when Tomi Alakoski from Economic Information Office (a subsidiary of the Confederation of Finnish Industries) developed Me and My City, which started around 2010. The program has spread rapidly from local pilot experiments into a nationwide program, where the majority of the Finnish 6th graders will participate each year. In 2016, a new edition of Me and My City for 9th graders started. The program has received international attention, see for instance this article in the Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/09/where-sixth-graders-run-their-own-city/498257/).

The idea in Me and My City is that students take various roles and learn about economy and society through role play. The play will take place in a physical environment where there are stands for each company, and the students move across the physical space. They work for a company, act as a consumer and elect a mayor. The play is quite strictly scripted, so there will be no dead moments. It is supervised by a group of (typically university) students, who give guidance and ensure that things will run smoothly. While the main feature of Me and My City is the visit to the physical environment, an equally important part of it are 10 preparatory classes students attend before visiting the environment.

The feedback on the program from students and parents have been highly positive. However, the learning outcomes had not been measured until 2016. In my presentation at the AEEE conference in Kufstein, I presented first results from a study evaluating the learning effects of Me and My City (http://www.uva.fi/en/news/yrityskyla/). The study was based on a pre- and post-test design. In five Finnish towns, students taking part of Me and My City responded to two questionnaires: to one before any education took place, and to the other after the course had been completed. This enabled to evaluate the changes in the economic knowledge and self-reported savings behavior of the students. The results indicated that there was a strong improvement in economic knowledge: it increased by about 17%. The results concerning savings were less strong and statistically insignificant for the sample as a whole. However, for about one-third of the students who said that Me and My City increased their interest towards savings to a considerable extent, also savings behavior changed positively.

There have been several new initiatives in the field of game-based economic education in Finland recently. This approach enables even younger students to participate in economic education. In the new curriculum for Finnish primary schools, economic education starts from the 4th grade. There are similar proposals elsewhere in Europe as well, and it would be interesting to compare them across Europe. If you are interested in educational and / or research collaboration on this topic, please feel free to contact me panu.kalmi@uva.fi .

Helping students to think rationally about migration

This blog provides some ideas for making use of the attached PowerPoint on the migration issue, which I presented at the 21st European Conference on Economics Education in Kufstein, Austria.

Migration PowerPoint Slides

If you teach economics in any context, do you discuss the issue of migration with your students? It is potentially emotive and complex and, as teachers of economics and social studies, we have a responsibility to ensure that it is addressed in a rational and empathetic way. The PowerPoint slides can be used selectively to provide a context for further investigation and discussion. migration_boat

Migration can be used to illustrate economic principles such as the workings of the labour market. The simple approach is to use migration as an example of a rise in the supply of labour having a depressing effect on wages. More insight may be gained by asking in which segments of the labour market are wages more likely to be depressed – the less skilled sections such as low level work in the service sector, fast food outlets, hotels or in horticulture. Highly skilled migrants e.g. doctors and nurses may help to stem staff shortages in hospitals. The workers most likely to face competition from new migrants are previous waves of migrants.

It has to be noted that many migrants are entrepreneurs. They set up their own businesses, create jobs for others and so increase the demand for labour. So economic theory tells us that migrants put both downward and upward pressure on wages. So we need to look to the empirical evidence before reaching a conclusion. In the UK, for example, there is relatively little evidence of systematic downward pressure on wages from migration, but there are local and sectoral effects. The more detailed our study the less likely it is that students will feel that migration is a black and white issue, and the more likely they are to develop a nuanced approach.

The presentation explores the origins of the fortress mentality, which leads people to want to put up barriers to all migration. Countries have fought hard over centuries to establish stable borders and safe spaces in which to foster the growth of commerce, develop their social infrastructure and foster a common culture in which their people can live safely and happily. The incursion of newcomers, especially those who question the status quo provide a dynamic for change but they may also pose a threat to the established order. A fruitful way of examining this is through the economics of clubs. It postulates that (a) it is rational and not racist to limit the number of migrants, (b) we should accept more migrants so long as their marginal social benefit exceeds their marginal social costs. The only problem is that if it leads to the creation of a closed society then we will deny ourselves the social richness and new ideas that migrants bring and, in some way, fossilise our societies.

The presentation gives reasons (economic and other) why people migrate. War and civil strife create a refugee problem. This is something that all countries should help with, through United National Agencies, by facilitating resettlement and alleviating the causes of distress in those countries from which migrants are fleeing. People also migrate to improve the long-term life chances for themselves and their families. This is motivated by the prospect of higher wages, better job and promotion prospects and advancement through education and training. The existence of a diaspora of kith and kin plays a facilitating role in migration. So a first wave of migrants makes it easier for a second wave by providing information and help with settlement. This poses difficult policy choices for receiving nations. Should they respect kinship ties and allow families to reunite or not allow family ties as grounds for migration? There is much scope here for discussion in class.

In order to understand migration fully we need to realise that it is a two-way flow. All countries gain and lose people through migration. Migrants’ remittances substantially boost the incomes of source countries. Many migrants return home after a time with new skills and with capital to start businesses. So migration can be an important factor promoting economic development in poorer countries. When designing teaching programmes, therefore, we need to examine:

  • What motivates migrants to move (security, wages, employment, long-term life chances and opportunities for family – all aided by the diaspora of people who have already made the move)
  • The impact of migration on receiving countries (wages, employment, housing, health and social services, dynamic growth effects)
  • The impact of emigration from countries losing people (loss of skilled and educated workers, receipt of remittances, more highly productive returnees who boost growth and development).

Case studies that present migrant stories as well as of receiving communities are very helpful for promoting understanding and empathy. These appear in newspapers and books. Two interesting books with migrant stories are:

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson “Cast Away”, and

Patrick Kingsley “The New Odyssey”.

A good book on the economics of migration is:

Paul Collier “Exodus – How migration is changing our world”.

The PowerPoint presentation summarises policy options, which are discussed fully in Collier’s book. These include:

  • Border controls and ceilings on numbers
  • Selectivity (e.g. points-based systems vs ballots)
  • Measures to foster the integration of migrants
  • Legalisation of illegal immigrants
  • Treatment of refugees

These provide considerable scope for student investigation, attitude surveys in the local community and discussion.

At the end of the presentation there are 4 migrant stories and 5 tasks. These are designed to promote group work.

I urge teachers to find time in class to address the issue of immigration. I encourage you to find time to go beyond the superficial and give students an opportunity to understand some of the complexity. Please feel free to use the PowerPoint slides – adapt them to your needs and use them selectively.

Please find time to give your views on the ideas presented and tell us about your own teaching suggestions and experiences on the AEEE Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145607098803006/.

21st European Economics Education Conference, Kufstein, Austria

Educators from across Europe and beyond met at the University of Applied Sciences in Kufstein, Austria, in late August for our latest and very successful conference on economics education. There were 85 participants from 19 countries. Most EU countries were represented and we also very much appreciated the contribution of colleagues from around the world, including USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan and South Africa. The European Economics Education Conferences are noted for their conviviality, which comes from the relaxed organisation and well thought-out social programme. As in previous conferences, we had very good plenary speakers, interesting workshops and there was ample scope for informal networking.

Kufstein FortressThe town of Kufstein is in the Austrian Tyrol. It is small and picturesque; circled by mountains and built around an historic Fortress, which controls a historic bridging point of the River Inn.

The University of Applied Sciences were perfect hosts. The conference took place in a new building with spacious meeting rooms with excellent audio-visual facilities. The university’s marketing department took part of all the domestic arrangements. Signage was good. There was good technical support. The catering was first rate, with delicious buffet lunches throughout the conference. The conference organisers even manage to arrange good weather, with sunshine throughout.

DSC08845The conferences aim to update participants on current economic and business issues, to present and discuss new pedagogy and to share the findings of the latest research. The scientific content of the conference was of a high standard. Plenary speakers covered such important topics as: Euro Area Monetary Policy, Brexit and Immigration. In the workshops there was much attention to helping teachers make the most of Information Technology as well as many other topics (see the attached programme). University academics presented current research on economic education, including insightful analyses and critique of the PISA tests on Financial Literacy.

DSC08848The parallel social programme included optional visits to a reception by the Lord Mayor of Kufstein, to Riedel glassworks followed by a wine tasting, a hike to a restaurant with splendid mountain views and a medieval conference banquet in the Fortress of Kufstein.

DSC08831We are grateful to Brent Kigner and the team of local and AEEE organisers who helped in the preparation and execution of the conference, which was a most valuable and enjoyable experience.

It goes without saying that the AEEE is always on the lookout for ideas that will make future conferences better. For the scientific programme we have to work with the papers and workshops that are offered to us by participants. In fact only the plenary speakers are invitees. If you participated in the conference then do please post your photographs on the AEEE Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145607098803006/

Also tell us about what you liked about the conference and what could be improved about the: content, catering, organisation, social and networking opportunities.

Attachments:

AEEE History

Kufstein conference program