September 30, 2019 Print

Simon Pekar and Monika Budzak​ at the Economics Olympiad.

Institute of Economics and Social Studies (INESS), an Atlas Network partner based in Bratislava, Slovakia recently wrapped up their second Economics Olympiad. Since 2017, INESS has been running this tournament, which tests the economic knowledge of high school students. At the end of the academic year, contestants from all over the country gather to meet, share and compete with one another over their mastery of the subject. 

Economic literacy is a growing concern in Slovakia, where gaps in economic knowledge pose a considerable risk to Slovaks. INESS believes that the rise of populism, particularly in Eastern Europe, is partially attributable to a lack of economic education—it’s much easier to misinform voters if they don’t have the economic knowledge to make informed decisions. Additionally, INESS reports that roughly one in ten Slovaks are in debt, a statistic partially attributable to decisions made in relative ignorance of economic principles. 

“When you say the word ‘economics’ most people still imagine accountants or dull people working with numbers in banks. Something they can’t affect and that has zero impact on them,” said Simon Pekar, winner of the national round of the Olympiad for the 2018-2019 academic year.

It’s become such an issue, according to Monika Budzak, director of the Economics Olympiad project at INESS, that the government has begun to introduce new introductory economics programs for primary and secondary schools.

Economics has never been given its due in Slovakia. Disciplines like physics, biology, and geography all have long competitive traditions, with olympiads and tournaments all over the country, but this had never been the case for economics. When INESS bucked the trend in 2017 and announced that they were running the Olympiad, interest skyrocketed.

Group photo of the Economics Olympiad attendees. 

“We received many emails and calls from teachers who stressed that their students were interested in the questions and wanted to discuss them more deeply.” explained Budzak, “They expressed the demand for a proper economics textbook to support their students in the Olympiad.”

Many schools didn’t have high enough quality textbooks to meet the standards of the Olympiad. To remedy this, INESS translated and distributed “Economics in 31 Hours”, an economics textbook written and published by the Lithuanian Free Market Institute. This textbook helped level the playing field for contestants and continues to raise the standard and quality of economic teaching in the country. Teachers who wrote to INESS recounted that the students were so thoroughly engaged with the examples of the Olympiad practice papers that they continued the discussion during their regular econ classes.

In its first iteration— which took place at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year—the Olympiad had just over 4,000 participants. In its second iteration in 2019, during which the tournament had its first international finals, the contest attracted 5,300 contestants. INESS expects even more students to sign up for the third event in 2020.  

Simon Pekar (pictured) interviewed at the international finals.

As the competition becomes more popular, the team at INESS is hopeful that it will have a greater effect on the general population, making the next generation more economically informed and aware.

The Institute for Economic and Social Studies received a grant from Atlas Network to fund the 2019 Economic Olympiad.