Improvement needed
in economics education


Hawaii high school seniors performed poorly in a test of economics

A STUDY showing that public school seniors could answer correctly only about half of 20 questions on a finance and economics test points to yet another challenge facing Hawaii's education system.

Though viewed as an esoteric area of scholarship, understanding and using financial concepts become increasingly important as young people move from classroom to real-world environments.

The Hawaii Council on Economic Education tested 521 seniors in 19 public high schools that offer economics courses and found that they had the right answers to 53.5 percent of the questions, down from an average of 59.8 percent in 2003. Only 44.9 percent picked the correct definition for "stock market," and only 28.7 percent for "budget deficit" in multiple-choice questions.

About 40 percent marked "don't know" on several questions, prompting a dire assessment of basic economic knowledge from University of Hawaii professor Denise Konan. "The fact that students didn't even know enough to venture a guess is a real wake-up call," she said.

The council, a partnership of business, labor and education, attributes this economic illiteracy to a drop in the number of public schools offering economics classes. According to its report, about 47 percent of high school seniors were enrolled in economics classes in 1999, but that dropped to 29 percent between then and 2002.

With limited resources -- funds, teachers and class time -- Hawaii's public schools struggle to offer an extended curriculum. However, students need the armor of economic comprehension to deal with important financial issues as adults.

As consumers, they need to be able to calculate whether to lease or buy a car, rent or buy a house and how much to borrow if they do. Figuring retirement accounts, market investments, choosing a credit card and starting a business all require economic knowledge.

The study points to a lack of qualified teachers trained in economics as one reason for the decline in class offerings. Here's where the council and the Department of Education can step in to help schools.

Partnerships of business people and teachers could provide classes for students on the basics. In addition, to liven up what young people might consider a dull subject full of charts and graphs, businesses could offer opportunities for hands-on, real-life education in their work places.

The need for economic literacy is not limited to personal financial decision-making but for understanding public policy, government operations, political dynamics and the global marketplace. It makes for better citizens.




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