In high schools across the world, most students graduate without any exposure to the concepts of market economics. The Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI), based in Vilnius, sought to change that by developing its Economics in 31 Hours textbook, which has been named one of six finalists for this year’s prestigious $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award, which will be awarded at Freedom Dinner 2016. Economics in 31 Hours teaches how property rights, free exchange, profit, and competition shape decision-making in everyday life. The textbook has proven to be wildly popular in its first year, and is now being used by nearly half of the country's 9th and 10th graders.
“LFMI’s three year development and advocacy work has resulted in legitimization of free market economics education in Lithuania’s national secondary school curriculum,” said Aneta Vaine, LFMI’s director of development and programs. “Released in August 2015 and still in its first year, the Economics in 31 Hours textbook is already used as part of the compulsory national curriculum by a total of 41 percent of upper secondary school pupils in the 9th and 10th grades in Lithuania’s 270 schools. This is 14,000 pupils country-wide.”
Used by teachers and approved by Ministry of Education and Science
The textbook’s accompanying teachers’ manual is used by more than half of Lithuania’s upper secondary school economics teachers to prepare lessons for thousands of students. In a country that only a short time ago was under communist control, Economics in 31 Hours is giving the next generation of Lithuanian youth a fighting chance to learn the economics of freedom.
“Overall, in 2015 alone we sold more economics textbooks for 9th and 10th grades than the total number of economic textbooks schools bought for all grades between 2013 and 2015,” Vaine said. “Instrumental to this success was official approval of Economics in 31 Hours by the Ministry of Education and Science and its registration as a recommended textbook for secondary schools. Moreover, the LFMI-authored continuous professional development course for economics teachers has been accredited by the Ministry’s affiliate regional education centers country-wide and the leading teacher training institution, the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences.”
LFMI reports that 200 economics teachers have upgraded their qualifications during the past year and a half through the specialized workshops developed and delivered by LFMI in conjunction with Economics in 31 Hours and its accompanying teachers’ manual. This is a sharp contrast to earlier years when economics courses were hobbled by textbooks left over from the country’s socialist era, and were treated as a peripheral subject in Lithuanian schools.
Development of an alternative economics curriculum
“Due to limited resources economics was normally taught by teachers from other disciplines, so economics teaching skills and capacities remained low,” Vaine said. “The quality of education suffered further from outmoded teaching and learning resources. Textbooks were aging faster than they were published. Teaching centered largely on mainstream economics that yielded a one-sided approach to economics and exalted big, omnipotent government. Available economics textbooks focused on mathematization of economic decisions and lacked social, civic and ethical perspectives.”
In order to rectify this pervasive problem, LFMI set out to produce an alternative curriculum that would build a solid foundation for free enterprise education and elevate the profile, relevance, and quality of economics education in upper secondary schools. To do this, LFMI created lessons that develop an understanding of free enterprise and free competition among the younger generation as keys to advancing prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment; and shape the way both students and teachers understand economics as an integral and inherent part of a complex social reality.
“The textbook is written in a very attractive and user-friendly form,” Vaine said. “All materials, learning aids and tasks directly relate economic laws and market forces to the reality and personal decisions of 16- and 17-year olds. Our main objective was to help pupils grasp economics not as a set of abstract processes or mechanisms but rather as a reflection of individual choices and action and human cooperation.”
A commercial success
Economics in 31 Hours is sustainable as an ongoing project thanks in large part to its commercial success, with such widespread coverage in schools that purchases have covered the costs of development and production. In addition to this, several entrepreneurs have been mobilized to purchase books for schools in their regions, and donors are also helping students who can’t afford to buy copies. LFMI reports that one entrepreneur who purchased books for the schools in his city has already reported observing better critical thinking skills and understanding of fundamental economic concepts among the high school students he encounters. LFMI has also established several partnerships and alliances with individuals and organizations interested in using Economics in 31 Hours as a tool to continue improving economics education in Lithuania.
LFMI was named as one of eight finalists for Atlas Network’s 2014 Templeton Freedom Award, for its Municipal Performance Index for Freedom and Free Enterprise, and won the prestigious $100,000 prize at the 2014 Freedom Dinner. LFMI’s Municipal Performance Index measures and ranks the performance of municipal governments in three overarching categories: municipalities for citizens, municipalities for investors, and municipal governance and administration.
About the Templeton Freedom Award and the additional 2016 finalists
Awarded since 2004, the Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The award annually honors his legacy by identifying and recognizing the most exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise, and the public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment via free competition. The award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 10 in New York City at the historic Capitale. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will receive $25,000 prizes. In addition to LFMI, other nominees for the 2016 Templeton Freedom Award include:
- Centre for Justice, based in Stockholm, Sweden, for its Litigating for Liberty project
- FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), based in Philadelphia, Penn., for its Legislative and Policy Project
- The Foundation for Government Accountability, based in Naples, Fla., for its Restore the Working Class project
- Goldwater Institute, based in Phoenix, Ariz., for its Right to Try Initiative
- Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, based in Mevaseret Zion, for its economic reform campaign