November 10, 2016 Print

Žilvinas Šilėnas (Lithuanian Free Market Institute) with Marija Vyšniauskaitė and Ieva Navickaitė.

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 awarded this year’s prestigious $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award. The award, generously supported by the Templeton Religion Trust, was presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 10 in New York City at the historic Capitale.

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. Released in August 2015, Economics in 31 Hours is already used as part of the compulsory national curriculum by more than 60 percent of Lithuania’s 9th and 10th graders, which amounts to more than 20,000 students. Instrumental to this success was its official approval by the country’s Ministry of Education and Science and its registration as a recommended textbook for secondary schools.

“The importance of economic thinking cannot be underestimated,” said Žilvinas Šilėnas, CEO of Lithuanian Free Market Institute. “Our individual and societal well-being depends on it. Unfortunately, economic education in schools is shallow at best, and incorrect at worst. Our aspiration is to win the battle for freedom of young minds. We are happy we have accomplished so much in pursuing this goal in an area where free-market ideas normally are not heard, in public schools and within the national school curriculum.”

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. The textbook includes 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.

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.

“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. “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.”

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. LFMI reports that 200 economics teachers have upgraded their qualifications 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.

“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.”

Kris Mauren (Acton Institute, 2015 Templeton Freedom Award winner), Žilvinas Šilėnas (Lithuanian Free Market Institute), Daniel Doran (Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress), Christina Sandefur (Goldwater Institute), Greg Lukianoff (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), Tarren Bragdon (The Foundation for Government Accountability), and Clarence Crafoord (Centre for Justice).

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.

“Sir John was probably most famous for his foresight in making investments that bear fruit in the long run,” said Brad Lips, CEO of Atlas Network. “LFMI’s ability to immerse nearly an entire country’s young people in sound economic ideas represents an investment that is sure to bear immeasurable fruit both now and long into the future.”

LFMI received a $100,000 prize for winning the award and the five runners-up each received $25,000. LFMI also won the 2014 Templeton Freedom Award for its Municipal Performance Index for Freedom and Free Enterprise, which measures and ranks the performance of municipal governments in three overarching categories: municipalities for citizens, municipalities for investors, and municipal governance and administration.

The other nominees for the 2016 Templeton Freedom Award included: