Practice Best Option to Learn Economics
By Park Hyong-ki
Mark Twain, the father of American literature, once said, ``There is nothing training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach. It can turn bad morals to good; it can destroy bad principles and recreate good ones; it can lift men to angelship.''
Two school teachers in Korea clearly and constantly remind themselves of Twain's words on the value of education when tending to their students, who, they strongly, believe will help improve Korea's economy and environment in the future.
The teachers are: Cho Suk-jo of Baekahm High School and Shon Byung-chul of Sangyok Elementary School.
Since their acquaintance with the YWCA-Citi Success Program, which funds educational programs on economics and the environment, Cho and Shon have been immersed in improving young students' independent decision-making and problem-solving abilities through the practice of economic and environmental theories.
Cho teaches economics, and he says it is imperative for students to learn not only the principles, but also how to be practical. ``It is through practicality can they truly learn about economics and finance. Otherwise, they will not be interested in learning the subject,'' he said.
He feels regretful to see today's school system, which only focuses on preparing students for college entrance exams. The importance of acing Korean literature, mathematics and English is overly emphasized for college admission, but economics is not. Students often shun the subject due to its hard theories and impracticality.
Cho, however, is trying to change all that through the program. ``You have to help them understand the relations between economics and everyday life.''
How? By giving problems for students in teams to solve by putting theories into practice, he stressed.
``For example, I ask the students what the problem with a particular product is, and possible solutions to it. Then, they discuss it within groups and come up with ways to develop a much more efficient product,'' Cho exemplified.
He added that while they search for answers, they have the chance to think economically in terms of cost and manufacturing efficiency. Being involved in economic problem solving is the key to learning the subject.
``From this point forward, now we can move on to the subject of marketing in which I ask them `Why is it better for consumers to buy your product than others?'' the teacher noted. He asks students to develop a marketing plan and market their products on the Internet.
``From a teacher's point of view, it's amazing to see them come up with creative ideas,'' Cho proudly said, adding that 70 percent of class is practicing and training, and the rest is teaching basic principles to students.
However, he noted that there is more room for improvement in economics education in Korea where economic and financial illiteracy remains in large numbers.
To offset another possible global economic downturns stemming from, for example, credit card bubbles or loan defaults in the future, Cho stressed, ``It is important to teach students about maintaining sound credit and reasonable consumption lifestyles among others at an early stage.''
Reiterating that through practices and training students can grow up to appreciate the value of economics and finance in the real world, while they actually get to borrow, buy and sell.
Binh Ki-beom, a research fellow of the Korea Securities Research Institute, noted that the country has more than 2 million credit delinquents, and household and individual debts amount to over 500 trillion won. ``The root of this problem is the absence of finance education.''
Citing overseas education system, the researcher called for more publicity and offerings of finance and economics programs from schools and state-run organizations.
``I don't believe people can say they remember learning about finance while they were in junior high school or high school,'' he said. Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are supporting early education in finance and economics at schools. The U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.K. Financial Services Authority are backing such moves.
``Teachers abroad take their students to banks to learn about banking and transactions, or set up a banking simulation at classes for youngsters to learn hands-on,'' said Cho.
After all, practice makes perfect, he added.
Preserving the Environment
Like Cho, Shon of Sangyok Elementary School, believes the importance of hands-on experience. Shon teaches the subject environment studies through field trips to forests and rivers.
``To really appreciate the value of nature, I believe students need to be close to natural places such as rivers, hills and forests, and touch and feel the surroundings to learn how plants and animals grow,'' said Shon.
Shon became interested in the environment when he was in college studying geography in the 1990s. But his real interest in teaching young students about the environment and ecological systems began after seeing Dongtan, Gyeonggi Province being polluted amid rapid urbanization, while he was living there.
Like economics, the environment has no place in schools' curriculum. ``It's not a specialized subject taught at schools,'' he said.
Thanks to the YWCA-Citi Success Program, Shon was able to increase his time with students outside of class in the field. ``You can't pour all these environmental theories and issues into youngsters. They'll get bored real quick. Most of the valuable lessons are learned outside of class by rivers and in forests,'' he said, adding that just sitting in a classroom and learning about recycling and dust storms is not exciting and practical.
Although there are some limits and responsibility about possible accidents in the field, Shon said the risk was worth taking when aiming to teach the importance of preserving the environment to young minds.
He said the five-day workweek system will boost interest in learning about the environment, but the country still has a long way to go in terms of practicality.
``More publicity is needed,'' added Shon, exemplifying the U.S. and Canada where field trips to natural places are active and the awareness of environmental conservation is high.
Currently, elementary schools do not provide environmental education, while at junior high and high schools, less than 1 percent of students take the elective course.
``It's really worrisome, and at the same time understandable since students are pressured to do good in Korean, English and math for the college exam,'' said Shon.
But this doesn't mean that Shon and Cho will stop their inspirational work, which had been recognized by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Ministry of Environment.
As in the words of a Greek philosopher, Epictetus: ``Only the educated are free.'' They say they will continue to devote freeing students from economic and environmental misunderstanding through practical and quality learning.