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Foundations of Absurdity: Economics in Schools

T.C.A. Srinivasa Raghavan

For some reason, economics is taught in schools in India, which is one of the very few countries to do so. But economics is a very arcane discipline because it calls for a lot of imaginary constructs that don’t sit well with the practical experience of children. It is full of unrealistic assumptions made in the cause of abstracting from reality in order to construct what economists seductively call models. But often abstractions are also made from previous abstractions and what you get, as the late Professor Ajit Biswas of the Delhi School of Economics used to say, is absurdities. Even adults find the going tough at times, so what of children between 14 and 18 years?   One of the staple assumptions of economics, which is sprinkled like salt on boiled eggs, is that of ceteris paribus – that is, all other things remaining the same. This counter-intuitive assumption forms the bedrock of 90 per cent of microeconomics and 100 per cent of what is taught in schools. Try and explain it to a 14 year old and you will get a sense of how silly it is to attempt it, leave alone examine them on its results in tracing the behaviour of individuals and firms. The other assumption that causes great problems is of rationality: everyone acts rationally. Really? Then, if everyone acts rationally, why is economics taught in Indian schools? Jokes aside, it is almost impossible to get young children to understand this assumption when everything around them points in the opposite direction. Yet, we soldier on.   As if teaching it was not bad enough, what is taught is also bizarre. The course is divided into two parts: theory and Indian economics. Enquiries from members of several syllabus committees have failed to enlighten as to why they have opted for this division, other than the obvious answer that a student must know both. Why? No other country, even at the university level, makes this division because it is not necessary. Whoever heard of British, German, French or American economics?   The folly doesn’t end there. It spills over into the syllabus as well. Indeed, a student who takes economics in the 9th and 10th pretty much learns all the elements of basic economic theory, including macroeconomics for which there is absolutely no need at the school level. And, if he or she opts for in the 11th and 12th as well, the need ...

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