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The meeting, primarily intended for secondary school teachers, revealed that sustainability is also becoming increasingly significant at universities. Often at the request of students who have been inspired by Kate Raworth's book 'The Doughnut Economics,' they engage in discussions about what they learn in economics and why. Professor Peter van Baalen summarised it, saying, ‘We’re noticing that students have different expectations of economics education. At the university, we have more freedom than in secondary education to address this topic. We’re happy to collaborate with secondary education on this theme.

We need to talk about sustainability

2 central questions were posed to gauge the opinions of teachers in secondary education: should sustainability play a larger role in the lessons for VWO students? And if so, what should be removed from the curriculum to make room for sustainability?

The answer to the first question was simpler than the second. The majority of attendees felt that attention should be given to sustainability. However, opinions were divided on how to make that happen in practice. The 2 sustainability questions in the recent central VWO final exam were not sufficient for many teachers. There is a need for a clear place in the curriculum. Jack Peerlings, associate professor at Wageningen University, concurred: ‘Economics is about making choices and scarcity. How can you not talk about sustainability?’

Fewer Models?

All participants agreed on the necessity of incorporating sustainability. However, opinions differed on what should be removed from the curriculum. Still, a cautious conclusion emerged: not all economics teachers are enthusiastic about the focus on (mathematical) economic models. Scrapping the IS-MB-GA model and GDP was mentioned by several participants.

Models also play a significant role in the final exam. According to teachers, their prominence could be reduced. The professors reluctantly agreed, with a caveat. Boot stated, 'There's nothing wrong with models, as long as you don't take them literally. The world cannot be captured in models. It is essential that students learn how to establish connections. That's what I miss now. Only a very small part of the material is tested during the final exam, giving students a limited view of economics. It’s worthwhile explaining that companies are not Mother Teresa and not should they be. As is teaching that government should use the power of companies to devise solutions for society. Economics education is shortsighted. Many business economists still don't understand the essence of economics after graduating. This also applies to CEOs: most only come up with good ideas after their retirement.’

Ton Smakman, an economics teacher at Regius College in Schagen, agrees: 'We’re not teaching students how complex the world is. There are plenty of examples we can use to explain that, such as energy. In my opinion, existing concepts don't need to be discarded, but we should use more current topics in the lessons.'

Claiming a place

Not everyone is confident that there will be a change. Peter Voorend, editor of the economics journal Vecon Tijdschrift voor het Economisch Onderwijs and an economics lecturer at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, is also in favour of a different approach to lessons, but the hope for real change is small: ‘We've been having this discussion for a long time. In practice, I am explaining the exact same things to my students as I was taught in the '70s. Something really needs to change.’

Peerlings shares that opinion: ‘We need to change something quickly in our field; we are being overtaken on all sides by other scientists who have also started to get involved in economics. They have taken that space because we haven't spoken up enough, also in terms of sustainability. Public administrators and lawyers have done that and are taking the place of general economists. We need to reclaim that space.’

Thinking for themselves

Boot: 'We need to start in secondary education by laying a foundation for general economics. It is necessary to relate economics to society as a whole. We need to educate people who can talk about economics in plain language again. When I used to write a paper, even my grandmother could understand it. Now, many people with a passion for economics choose econometrics, and the people we really need are disappearing. This also applies to my own daughter, whom I couldn't help with her studies after her first year. I think that instead of talking about scrapping parts, we should look at the types of students we’re producing. Are we teaching them to think for themselves? And are we teaching them about civics?’

Michiel Bart, curriculum developer at the Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO), brings good news for those eager for a change in the curriculum: discussions on updating the final exam programme will start soon.