Developing Students' Arguments: Citizenship Aspects of Business and Economics

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INTRODUCTION

The Citizenship order requires all pupils to take part in Citizenship Education. Part of Citizenship education is the requirement for pupils to develop their understanding of economic issues. Past studies (Davies et al., 2002a) have shown that pupils' knowledge and understanding of business and economics issues is poor. Teachers of Citizenship therefore have an obligation to improve this knowledge base and to ensure that pupils go beyond a simplistic level of understanding. The ability to see issues from different perspectives and to make a balanced judgement will go some way to ensure that, as citizens, pupils do not accept issues at face value, but look into the topic on a deeper level.

In terms of the Nuffield GCSE course in Business and Economics this ability may be viewed as a higher order skill. Pupils must be able to use their knowledge to construct an argument in order to demonstrate that they have answered examination questions in a balanced, reasoned and evaluative manner. In some preliminary work carried out with a GCSE Business and Economics group, pupils were asked to mark some examination answers, which ranged in quality according to levels of response. Encouragingly, almost all pupils were able to identify a good answer.

However, many thought that one particular answer was better than it actually was. This answer was detailed, but was one sided. This suggests that pupils believe that the length of an answer is an indication of quality, and that the construction of a balanced argument is not necessary for the higher marks. Students' understanding of what counts as a 'higher level skill' is not very well developed.

This article reports outcomes from a Best Practice Research Scholarship, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, that focused on developing the quality of students' economic arguments in Citizenship Education. The initial aim of the research was to establish different qualities of judgement that teachers and pupils can use to evaluate pupils' work. This was undertaken with Year 11 students during Citizenship Education classes at Wilnecote High School, Staffordshire. The next section describes how these qualities were identified. Teaching designed to improve the quality of students' arguments is presented in a further section, this time using evidence from Year 11 students studying GCSE Business and Economics at King Edward VI High School, Stafford.

IDENTIFYING QUALITIES OF ECONOMIC JUDGEMENTS

In order to generate evidence of different qualities of judgement we set students a task relating to recycling and social responsibility. Pupils were given copies of Figure 1 and asked to choose one statement they agreed with and one statement they disagreed with. In each case they were asked to write a justification of the standpoint they were taking.

Pupils' views appeared to be quite simplistic. They saw recycling as always beneficial to the environment, for example 'we know for a fact it (recycling) helps the environment.' Many stated that businesses should recycle and did not acknowledge that there were any costs or problems in doing so. It was also evident that pupils were making simplistic judgements when asked about the behaviour and ethical responsibility of firms. The most common view was that the profit motive leads businesses to act against consumer interests.

When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the assertion that 'businesses and consumers want the same things: better products at lower costs,' pupils nearly always saw businesses and consumers at odds. One pupil wrote:

'businesses nowadays are greedy and want to make a lot of profit to pay off their financial problems,'. Another stated that 'businesses want to make a cheap product and sell it for lots of money.' Furthermore, when asked to respond to the statement, 'businesses do what consumers want them to do,' pupils tended to disagree. For example,

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