[OUTLOOK]Enhance education on the economyWhy do we need education on the economy? For a starter, basic knowledge on economy is very helpful in your daily life. To a member of a capitalist market economy, understanding the meaning of the stock price index or interest rates is as essential as reading the gauge on an instrument panel is to a driver. However, an equally important reason is that understanding economic principles helps the social community to make wiser policy decisions. In fact, reasonable economic activity at an individual level is almost an instinct, like shopping for a cheaper product, and there is little need for extra education. Yet, in order to make the right decision on whether to open Korea’s rice market, people need to have the ability to properly understand the economic impact of doing so.
In this context, educating people on economy and fostering economic awareness are essential for the development of the national economy as well as individuals. However, the citizens’ level of understanding of market principles is very low. Many people consider companies as institutions pursuing public interest, not profit, and a sentiment that market opening is surrendering to superpowers’ unilateral interests is still pervasive. Holding the government accountable for every crisis and approaching important agendas such as equal distribution and environmental preservation with emotional public sentiment, ignoring the cost factor, is caused by a lack of understanding of the economy. It is especially worrisome if we consider that East European countries and China, which experienced socialism for long, concentrate on economic development without unnecessary arguments.
In order to enhance the economic awareness of our citizens, more active efforts should be made on economic education from elementary school to high school. However, the curriculum of economic education of our public school system is feeble as a whole. Most of all, the number of hours assigned to economics classes are only one-quarter of the hours for geography or world history classes. Textbooks are poor in quality due to various restrictions, collusion in the textbook market and a loose approval process. There are not many teachers who have had the chance to receive a proper economics education themselves. In the College Scholastic Ability Text, economics is branded a subject in which it is hard to get high scores and only 13 percent of applicants choose the subject in the test. In such a barren environment of economic education, it is no surprise that some politically-minded teachers convey their unfiltered leftist ideologies to students.
How can we normalize education on economics? There has to be a system to produce quality textbooks. The students, who are the consumers of education, and economics specialists need to take an active part in the development process of the curriculum. The authors and publishers have to be given better financial compensation and incentives, and textbooks have to be thoroughly examined by reforming the approval procedure. Teachers have to be better reeducated in economics and their attendance at economics classes should be prerequisites for appointment. It is also important to develop and propagate a curriculum that is effective and interesting at the same time. Especially at elementary and middle school levels, students need to be educated on economics related to their daily lives. A cooperative structure should be organized in order to coordinate efforts and enhance the efficiency of economic education that is independently pursued by different institutes. In the United States, the National Council on Economic Education was established in 1949 under the initiatives of academics and teachers.
What is most important is to form a national consensus on economic education and pursue it. While it sounds obvious, such efforts might not in reality be easily implemented in the educational system. An attempt to expand economics classes was met with opposition from interested parties and failed even during the military-backed Chun Doo Hwan administration. Some say that changing the hours assigned to each subject is harder than deciding whether to relocate the administrative capital. However, we are already witnessing the results of having neglected economic education for so long. We have to look straight at the fact that the future of the Korean economy is murky, if we continue to ignore the importance of economic education. It is time for us to change.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Konkuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kwon Nam-hoon