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.
What’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 firstname.lastname@example.org .