Teaching economics - Why examples should precede theory

Dissertation, Teaching economics - Why examples should precede theory, Manolis Anastopoulos, Middlesex University.

5.2.2 Analysis of researching questions The need to understand economics and the effectiveness of the traditional teaching methods of the Economic theory.

The economic courses in Greek secondary education are taught at clearly introductory level with the lesson ‘Principles of Economics’ in the first grade of Senior High school and the lesson ‘Principles of the Economi Theory’ as an optional lesson[1] , with 2 hours per week  in the third grade  of Senior High school. As Whitehead & Makridou-Bousiou (2002:33) mention in their book, ‘Studies express scepticism about the potential that a lesson of few hours has to produce a satisfactory level of economics education.’

It could be then, that only two hours of teaching the economic theory per week constitute an important factor for the level of students’ understanding of economics. But is this the only one?

An additional, according to our opinion, problem in understanding economics is –the also observed in the adult population- that of ‘misunderstanding’ economic terms such as that of ‘inflation’ or ‘cost’. Additionally, given the everyday nature of economics discussions, we observed there is an attempt made by a lot of people to ‘conceal’ the ‘I don’t know’ or the ‘I’m not sure.’

It is a characteristic example that of students, who after having been taught the theory of economics for a year and with marks between 15-20, answered our question, ‘Do you believe that a substantial reduction in the prices of CDs would result in the increase of the quantity of CDs you would wish to buy? (that is if you like music and buy CDs?with NO at a percentage of 27%.

In our question towards the students, but also our fellow-teachers, with regard to ‘How important do you consider it is nowadays to understand economics and also to have an opinion on it?’ the overwhelming majority of 92% answered that YES, they do consider the existence of knowledge of economics important.

The above mentioned opinion also shared colleagues - teachers, stressing the fact that the birth and expansion of globalisation made the need for knowledge of economics imperative. With regard to the role played by economics to globalisation, Albanis (1998:198,199), characteristically mentions that, ‘Nowadays, economics is globalized, that means it is organised functionally, as a single unit, in worldwide scale. As for the perception and action of economics subjects, they are constantly becoming more and more multinational.’  The above remark, in our opinion supports the ‘need’ for knowledge of economics for people living in today’s status of globalisation.

On the one hand then, there is total recognition of the need for knowledge of economics and, on the other, 72% of those asked replied that they do not consider the traditional teaching methods effective for understanding economics  (for example: monologue, writing on the board, etc.) 

TABLE   The need to understand economics (knowledge of economics) and the effectiveness of

the traditional teaching methods of the Economic theory


[1]  Fortunately for the economic theory, it could never be considered that, when a well known subject becomes unfashionable, then it is incorporated into educational system as compulsory – Peter Drucker.

Teaching Economic Theory “Why Examples Should Precede Theory"

Manolis Anastopoulos, Dissertation, Middlesex University.


This project began, on the one hand, due to the researcher’s belief in everyone’s potential and right to obtain knowledge and, on the other, due to the forever increasing ‘need’ of today’s society for the knowledge of economics.

It was determined as an aim to investigate how effective a teaching method of the theory of economics in which ‘the example would precede the theory’ would be.

The research was based on the total strength which is created by the combined and parallel use of different research methods and tools.

With the identity of the insider-researcher, due to my profession as a teacher, I conducted an action research in the workplace of schools and tutorial schools, with both qualitative and quantitative approaches, so that there would be width and depth in this research.

A variety of research tools, such as bibliography, observation, interviews and questionnaires –whose quantity data were statistically analyzed using the programme  SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Scientists ) , were used to collect data.

The processing of the collected data came up with three important results among others. Firstly, the awareness of the participant students for the ‘need’ for a knowledge of economics. Secondly, their wish for the use of generally different teaching methods especially in the course of the theory of economics. Thirdly, their preference in the position of the example during teaching economics, namely their expressed preference in ‘the example preceding the theory’.

In addition, research showed the students’ preference to examples taken from ‘everyday life’, which due to their realism, gain larger importance in their role as motive for the activation of students’ interest in economics.

We would like to believe that with the approach we have analyzed, that is ‘The example preceding the theory, we will participate in conveying the knowledge of economics more effectively. Based on our approach, conveying knowledge will be accomplished with the cooperation of students. The result of this joint effort will be the ‘revelation’ of the theory, after we have previously analyzed everyday examples of behavior of economics.


Teaching Economic Theory “Why examples should precede theory”

Emmanouil Sp. Anastopoulos, Dissertation, Teaching Economic Theory "Why examples should precede theory", Middlesex University.



The fact that there are students and listeners who show less ‘interest’ with regard to what they are listening to in a lecture hall or classroom compared to other listeners, is a common enough phenomenon. The question ‘of what interest is that to me?’ is often heard.

In other words, there are reasons why part of an audience is ‘activated’ (as if someone touches those sensitive cords or satisfies certain needs), while at the same time the same reasons or lack of other reasons neutralize the rest of the listeners or just make no difference to them at all.

A speaker-teacher’s personality undoubtedly constitutes one of the most basic reasons, since it has to contain many other principles of the efficient public speaker, Lucas (2004:7-8) apart from the leader’s physique. Among other factors which affect his efficiency as a speaker are:

  • Good thought organization according to a logical and chronological order. (Organizing the thoughts logically)
  • Adapting what we want to pass on the needs of the audience at any given time. (Tailoring the message to the audience)
  • Careful observation of listener’s reactions.

(Adapting to listener feedback)

In a more analytical approach, we would be able to refer to the use of different ‘teaching methods’ so as the message we convey can become part of the maximum possible number of listeners. As is claimed in his book, Bruner’s (1960:11-16), ‘We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development (ibid:33).’

Although it is neither our purpose to claim that any given subject should necessarily be of interest to any person, since in such a case we would be ignoring the ‘individuality’ of people, nor of course to refer top the principles of teaching themselves, we believe it would be useful to present the most important principle, that of providing motives in order to achieve personal goals, Byars & Rue (2003:195).

However, for the sense of motive to work in the researched issue, students should firstly understand in what way what they learn-economics lessons- are related and applied (become useful) in their everyday lives. Otherwise, they will regard the news-message as something ‘alien’ to their interests.

At this point ‘steps in’ the teacher’s ability to support what he wants to effectively pass on, Lucas (2004:175), ‘Among others with the use of examples, statistics and testimony.’

Undoubtedly, the components of the above ‘supporting material’ act in cooperation and therefore have a joint usefulness. Nevertheless, the use of examples (of a concise or extended type or even hypothetical ones), is considered of use even on its own. The example by itself ‘shortens’ the distance between theory and action, allows the ‘faraway’ to become ‘near’, and when it refers to our everyday activities then it nullifies the ‘of what use is that to me’ and replaces it with the ‘I really do experience this daily’.

Finally we believe that through this quality it has, the example activates people who were considered ‘indifferent’ to certain subjects or renderings, as in the case we are examining, renderings from the field of economics the knowledge, understanding and analysis of which, is considered extremely important nowadays.

The above thoughts have led to the writing of this project in which the effort is focused on the chronological order of the example in relation with the theory. Namely, example should precede the theory when teaching economics.

Dissertation, Teaching Economic Theory "Why examples should precede theory", Emmanouil Sp. Anastopoulos, Middlesex University.