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Gen Y Speaks: Teaching economics is a perpetual challenge, but seeing my students grow keeps me going

When I was younger, I had a complicated relationship with the learning of economics. The subject was new to me in junior college, and I initially found the content of the lectures quite overwhelming.

 

But soon after, Covid-19 struck. 

Teachers and students were thrown headfirst into home-based learning (HBL). This presented new challenges as I was not at all familiar with the use of video conferencing tools to conduct online synchronous lessons. 

The thought of online teaching was daunting. It was funny how the first few online lessons were nerve-wracking even though I was conducting them from the comfort of my bedroom! 

I wondered about the challenge of engaging my students and gauging their levels of engagement and attention online. How could I make their voices heard? How do I ensure that they are paying attention? 

I was plagued with self-doubt about my ability to teach efficiently online.

With the help of my colleagues, I picked up the use of Nearpod, an online student engagement platform that allows me to create interactive presentations with gamified quizzes, polls and collaborative boards. 

In spite of my doubts in being able to conduct HBL, my students embraced it in a surprisingly positive way.

I had a quiet and shy student who always responded with “I don’t know” whenever she was asked questions in class. 

So I was pleasantly surprised when she participated actively in lesson activities through Nearpod. 

Her “voice” came through clearly, making her thinking visible to me and giving me valuable insights into her misconceptions. 

It warmed my heart when the student shared with me that it motivated her to contribute in class. 

When we returned to the physical classroom, I continued to make use of Nearpod and other such tools to encourage student participation in my classes. 

Even if some students may be shy about speaking up in class, the use of technology has given me greater assurance that my students are engaged.

MOTIVATING STUDENTS

While I still encounter challenges in motivating my students in the learning of economics, I simply tell myself to enjoy the ride. 

What keeps me going are the heartening moments that emerge spontaneously in class when I least expect it.

During a lesson on inflation, when I asked the class to share how the higher prices had affected their lives, a student said that the price of “cai fan” (Mandarin for economy rice) from the hawker centre opposite our school had gone up. 

It cost S$4.70 for rice with eggs, chicken and vegetables, which was significantly higher than a few months ago! 

This phenomena sparked a lively discussion in the classroom on the reasons why. Some students cited the higher egg and chicken prices, caused by rising chicken feed prices and Malaysia’s chicken exports ban. 

I was also glad to hear some students expressing concern about how the elderly residents would cope with the rising prices. This was met with enthusiastic responses about how they could use Community Development Council vouchers to defray the costs.

Through this discussion, the students demonstrated the ability to apply economic theories to explain real-life events, an awareness of economic news, and most importantly, empathy for others.

To me, teaching economics goes beyond the teaching of economic concepts. 

Fundamentally, there is the constant endeavour of guiding my students to learn sound values and develop positive learning dispositions through their journey. 

As educators, we play an important role in inspiring hope and igniting a sense of curiosity and wonder in our students. Only then, can life-long learning truly take place.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zeng Wenjie is a senior teacher in economics at Temasek Junior College and the recipient of the Economic Society of Singapore’s Outstanding Economics Teacher Award 2022.

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