Dollars, sense a primary concern
Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth Peter Garrett visits Randwick Girls High School. Photo: Kate Geraghty
First there was Freakonomics, then Consumptionomics, Parentonomics, Bleakonomics and now Greekonomics. Now, thanks to Peter Garrett, the federal Minister for School Education, get ready for Kidonomics.
A paper released by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Economics and Business proposes that Australian schoolchildren be exposed to a basic education in economics and business. The paper was written by a panel including economists, business educators and educationalists after consultation with interested parties, primarily teachers.
It's an appropriate initiative in what is one of the world's most successful economies; an economy that apparently defies the boom-bust cycle and one where a whole generation has already grown up never experiencing recession. It's a land, too, where people talk about the economy as they do the weather.
Younger Australians set to live their lives in the Asian Century are going to appreciate the value of dollars and sense, as it were, even more. It's all part of the Labour government's proposed Australian Curriculum.
It was agreed, as a national initiative, that every Australian child be entitled to a basic education in economics and business concepts. Until now economics and business subjects were only available as an elective at years 11 and 12. To paraphrase Bob Hawke, ''By 2020, no Australian child will live in economic illiteracy''.
The idea is to sow a great economics and business literacy among the young. Children in years 5 to 8 will be introduced to economic concepts such as scarcity, choice, resources, markets, opportunity cost and business concepts such as revenue, cost, profit and return on investment.
Broadly, the agenda for the new subject revolves around four key ideas, namely, making choices, the business environment, consumer and financial literacy and the world of work and how it's rapidly changing.
Parts of the American education system already offer economics and business to primary school children. American educators have already identified that children are exposed to latent economic and business concepts in their reading and viewing, even if they do not realise it.
An academic paper on the story lines of the literature of Dr Seuss identified scarcity, choice and economising approaches to life problems. Even episodes of The Simpsons that exhibit economics and business concepts are used in American classrooms. Of course, economics is, as the great Cambridge economist Alfred Marshall put it, the study of mankind ''in the ordinary business of life''.
While Economics and Business will take up only 2 per cent of the curriculum in those four years of schooling, it will be enough to give children a sense of the world and the worth of participating in the economy as consumers and producers.
It is a revolutionary step in education. The returns of doing so will all be long run; children will be introduced to consumer and financial literacy so as to avoid being delinquent in those matters when they become young adults. Apparently the biggest cause of bankruptcy among under-25s is mobile phone bills.
Who knows? In every Australian household Dad can be Treasurer and Mum the RBA governor. Children might be able to converse over the kitchen table about household finances including school fees and the mortgage.
In the longer term, as young adults, they will become a little prepared to identify the humbug and cant uttered by squabbling politicians. An economically enlightened electorate in the making! That would be something.
The next stage is to start designing content for the curriculum for the nominated four years and also material for years 9 and 10, which will be optional for schools.
After consultation the curriculum will be finalised at year's end before being signed off by Australia's ensemble of education ministers.
Alex Millmow, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Ballarat, was one of the panel of experts who wrote the Shape paper.