Contributing to Citizenship Education by Improving the Quality of Students' Arguments

Article excerpt

This is the first of three papers produced by the team of citizenship educators in Staffordshire. The other two will appear in future editions of the journal.

WHY SHOULD TEACHERS OF BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS EDUCATION BE INTERESTED IN CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION?

In many schools citizenship education has quickly become the province of the PSE co-ordinator. In some cases this has led to a radical review of what is taught in PSE. In other cases there seems little change. Why should teachers of business and economics devote any of their precious time to fishing in these murky waters? There are three reasons: two long-term and one short term.

One long-term reason is that every subject has to justify its position sooner or later. In every school there will come a time when a new senior management team will cast their eye over the work of the business and economics teachers and ask why these areas should not face cutbacks to create more room for other subjects pressing for a bigger slice of the cake. Historically, contributing to the development of citizens has been a major part of the justification of economics education in the curriculum (see for example, Henderson, 1985).

Business Studies has steadily refined its contribution to citizenship education through successive syllabus revisions over the past 15 years. The specifications at GCSE now aim to encourage candidates to 'appreciate the perspectives of a range of stakeholders in relation to the environment, individuals, government and enterprise' (AQA, 2003, p. 11). If teachers of business and economics really are helping the development of future citizens then they need to be at the forefront of discussion and practice in schools whenever the topic of citizenship education is mentioned. If they are not, it will gradually be assumed that citizenship education does not require any input from business and economics, including at examination level.

The Citizenship requirements for Key Stage 4 currently require that all students should be taught 'How the economy functions' QCA (2001, 2002). Teachers of business and economics should be involved in determining how this requirement is interpreted. It is helpful to make a connection between teaching 'how the economy functions' and 'learning socially and morally responsible behaviour'. This connection might be made by developing students' ability to see an issue from different perspectives and by recognising different interests.

A second long-term reason is that students currently have low levels of relevant knowledge and understanding in relation to the business and economic elements of citizenship education (Davies et al., 2002a). For example, they typically don't understand the relationship between government spending and taxation in a way that leads them to offer sensible opinions on the effects of changes in either. This is not encouraging news for the critical scrutiny of electoral promises. So there is plenty of room for improvement in students' understanding and it really does matter that these improvements occur. As private power grows in strength relative to governments and as complexity in the economic system increases, it becomes ever more important that students are equipped to make sensible judgements and exert constructive influence (Davies, forthcoming).

There is also a short-term reason for being interested in Citizenship Education. Developing thinking and practice regarding the business and economic aspects of Citizenship Education can improve attainment in business and economics courses. This must be so if the currently stated aims for business and economics courses are reflected in the way they are assessed. So devoting some time to Citizenship Education should have some pay-offs in the core work of the business and economics teacher.

HOW SHOULD TEACHERS OF BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS EDUCATION AIM TO CONTRIBUTE TO CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION?

At Key Stage 4 the key teaching objective in the Citizenship Education Curriculum is 'understanding how the economy functions'. …