In 2002, Lithuania added economic education to its national school curriculum, mandating that 9th or 10th grade students take 31 hours of classroom study. Teachers, many of them working out of their field, struggled to make outdated textbooks relevant to their students, especially as the available material emphasized government-level solutions to economic problems through theoretical mathematical modeling of economic activity. Surveys of teachers found that 70 percent complained about the abstract marginalization of this new mandated curriculum, made worse through limited time for planning, a lack of engaging and interactive teaching material, and a unanimous feeling among students that the course “did not relate to the surrounding reality and people’s lives.”
The Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI), based in Vilnius, stepped up to launch an innovative and interactive textbook and teacher’s manual titled Economics in 31 Hours. In 2015, the first year of its release, it outsold the total number of economics textbooks that had been purchased during the prior two years combined. As of January 2017, the textbook is used by 68 percent of 9th and 10th graders in Lithuania’s schools — more than 22,000 students across the country annually. Only 18 months after the original production, LFMI is now publishing the 4th edition of this textbook.
“Textbooks were aging faster than they were published,” explained Aneta Vainė, director of development and programs at LFMI. “Teaching centered largely on mainstream economics that yielded a one-sided approach to economics and exalted big, omnipotent government.” In addition to these problems, students were not learning the significance of economics and markets in how they would approach political, social, and career decisions. “Available economics textbooks focused on mathematization of economic decisions and lacked social, civic, and ethical perspectives,” Vainė said.
LFMI had worked successfully on policy advocacy and economic reform issues in Lithuania for 25 years before it released the Economics in 31 Hours textbook. It had witnessed the rise of a new generation that did not remember the economic and political situation of the country before 1990. “It is by no means true that knowledge of economics is necessary for only a minority — the understanding of the discipline is crucial for everyone and essential for the well-being of the society,” said Žilvinas Šilėnas, LFMI president.
The LFMI team understood that the book needed to be part of an overall reform in the way that students learn economics, so they also developed a teacher’s guide, which includes a full curriculum plan and associated learning aids. In addition, they provided training and support that would allow teachers to become more effective with material they understood.
The result was a rapid success. Economics in 31 Hours, named after the length of the course requirement as specified in the law, was quickly adopted by more than half of the classrooms in Lithuania. The textbook began to win awards, among them the prestigious Templeton Freedom Award in 2016 — generously supported by the Templeton Religion Trust — and other organizations began to inquire about translations of the textbook for their own countries. “This year the teacher’s platform won the People’s Choice Award in LOGIN — the largest tech and innovations festival in the Baltic states,” Šilėnas said. “This is a strong argument for the need of contemporary learning and teaching aids of economics.”
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.
The Economics in 31 Hours project team included Žilvinas Šilėnas, LFMI president; Marija Vyšniauskaitė, co-author and head of the LFMI Education Centre; Aneta Vainė, director of development and programs at LFMI; and Ieva Navickaitė, coordinator of Education Centre projects at LFMI.
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Atlas Network maintains that some of the best lessons for achieving impact are taught by sharing success stories of similar organizations. The case study highlighted here features the work of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, the winner of Atlas Network’s prestigious Templeton Freedom Award in both 2014 and 2016. If you would like more in-depth inquiry, guidance, and discussion, be sure to participate in Atlas Leadership Academy’s Think Tank Impact online course, which includes case studies about other award-winning projects. This course, run quarterly throughout the year, allows participants to learn, share, and address organizational challenges along with others from the worldwide freedom movement. New case studies are being published regularly, so keep an eye out for future publications and recommend this course to your colleagues.