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Toni Hewett discusses the new DP economics course

The IB interviews, Toni Hewett, one of the developers of the new DP economics course. Continue reading as she discusses the exciting changes and ideas, while exploring the course’s global relevance in society today.

Toni Hewett discusses the new DP economics course

“We wanted to develop a course that would be engaging for students and allow them to develop an understanding of complex world issues, regardless of whether they continue to study economics beyond school.”

What are the key differences between the old and the new courses?

Fundamentally, economics uses models and theories to examine the choices made by society at different levels, and that remains a constant. Much of the content will be familiar to teachers, though there are some additions, such as the introduction of behavioural economics. This is a type of economic research that includes elements of psychology to traditional models aimed at analyzing decision-making by economic actors. It challenges the assumption that actors will always make rational choices with the aim of maximizing utility.

One key change is the greater emphasis on using real world contexts to explore the content.  In addition, nine key concepts that are central to the course have been identified: scarcity, choice, efficiency, equity, economic well-being, sustainability, change, interdependence and intervention.  These concepts are recurring themes throughout the course, connecting discrete topics. Each of the six Real World Issues in the guide begins with statements of conceptual understanding to help teachers and students appreciate the ‘big ideas.’ Finally teachers are encouraged to employ an inquiry approach to teaching and learning.

Together, these components help students to acquire a holistic and integrated understanding of economics as a discipline. Similarly, assessment components have more focus on application to real world contexts and are holistic in nature.

What factors influenced the changes?

We wanted to develop a course that would be engaging for students and allow them to develop an understanding of complex world issues, regardless of whether they continue to study economics beyond school.

The focus on the key concepts is important in helping students make connections across topics, enhancing overall understanding and making the subject more meaningful. It also helps them to synthesize information and evaluate arguments. The focus on inquiry will mean that students learn to ask questions, construct knowledge and develop the skills of independent learners.

Following on from this, it made sense that assessment components were holistic, as real world issues cannot be boxed into certain units or topics. In addition, time for extended responses was increased to allow students more opportunity to demonstrate a greater depth of understanding and argument.

“Students will learn to apply economic thinking to real word issues and will understand the complexity of these issues.”

Why is this new course relevant to society today?

The course addresses many of the key issues and challenges facing individuals and societies today.  For example, improving living standards whilst ensuring environmental sustainability, debates over the appropriate level of government intervention in the economy, growing inequalities and the impact of increasing globalization and interdependence.  We see these around us and in the news on a daily basis.

The recent COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic highlights many of the types of issues covered in the course:

  • How does society make choices about how to allocate vital goods and services such as masks, ventilators and vaccines?
  • What are the causes and impacts of a decline in economic activity?
  • What kinds of government intervention might be effective in supporting firms or the unemployed?
  • To what extent can governments sustain large debts?
  • What are the gains, and risks, of increased international economic integration?

How will taking this course prepare IB students moving forward?

Students will learn to apply economic thinking to real word issues and will understand the complexity of these issues. They will not be under the misconception that there are easy, single ways of approaching these. Exposure to multiple perspectives will encourage reflection and open-mindedness.  The skills developed throughout the course will support students in transferring their learning to new contexts and give them the skills to become life long learners.

In addition, students will develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that will encourage them to act responsibly as global citizens.

What is a misconception that you believe people may have about this new course?

Some teachers have asked about the ‘addition’ of the key concepts and how they will be assessed. Rather than think about these as additional content, it is preferable to view these as helping to make the conceptual threads that are woven throughout the course more explicit. Many teachers recognize that these key concepts have always been there but, for students, this is less obvious unless we address them directly.

Toni Hewett discusses the new DP Economic course

Toni Hewett is one of the developers for the new DP economics course, now in its first teaching this year. Originally from the UK, she joined her first international school in Mexico City in 1996, where she began teaching the IB Diploma Programme. Since then, Toni has worked in international schools in Europe and Asia, teaching DP economics, Geography and TOK. In recent years, she has also served as a DP Coordinator, in addition to her former roles with the IB as an examiner, workshop leader, school visitor and consultant. Toni was invited to join the DP economics curriculum review in its first year and worked with the team throughout the process.

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