More and more young people in Germany are falling into debt. Some estimates put their numbers at more than one million. As a result, demands for dedicated economics courses in schools are growing louder by the day.
Math is a must in German schools, but economics isn't
Young and broke: More and more young people in Germany are wracking up huge debt.
Whether it's frivolous Internet purchases, expansive cell phone bills, exorbitant shopping tours or excessive credit-card consumption, the temptation is huge – too huge for many teenagers and young adults to resist.
Industry associations partly blame schools for not offering a designated course devoted to general economics and personal finance.
Focusing regularly on business
There are exceptions. Once a month, a large German newspaper publishes a business page, which is both written and designed by school students. "Youth and Business" is the name of the newspaper project. It's sponsored by the Federal Association of German Banks, and requires students to focus regularly on the newspaper's business pages.
Plenty of teenagers and young adults know how to spend and pile up debt, but not save
The project exists only because it's privately financed. Inge Niebergall, a director of the banking association, doesn't understand why general economics courses aren't part of the regular curriculum.
"Last year we asked students if they wanted to learn more about economics in school," Niebergall said. "Some 78 percent of them responded positively. More than 80 percent of the adults we surveyed approved of the idea as well because they see a real need."
Not only the banking federation but other industry associations and unions also complain about the insufficient economic education of young people. Thomas Retzmann, a professor at the Duisburg-Essen University and chairman of the German Society of Economic Studies, speaks of a desolate – and alarming – situation. Very few young people today, he complains, are familiar with terms like inflation and company pension funds.
"They need to have a basic understanding of economics to participate in daily life," Retzmann said. "It begins with the news they see in the newspaper or on TV or in the other new media channels. They need to have an idea of what's happening to form an opinion."
Lack of a common economic course
German schools aren't completely void of economics studies. But education in Germany is governed by the states. So what students in Schleswig-Holstein learn isn't necessarily the same as what those in Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia learn. The one thing that all states do have in common is the lack of a common economics curriculum.
Young people need a basic understanding of economics "to participate in daily life"
"Today, schools often teach economics in a very fragmented way; the subject is spread across very different course: calculating prices, for instance, is math, globalization is German, and economic geography is geography," said Otto Kentzler, President of the Confederation of German Trades. "We need new ideas to systematically give students the armor they require to become 'responsible economic citizens.'"
What's necessary is not only a curriculum reform but also changes to teachers' training, Retzmann added: "How should a teacher who has not studied economics and has never heard of economic education be able to teach basic economic principles?"
In two expert reports, Retzmann outlined what school students should know about economics by the end of their schooling and what that implies for teaching professionals Among his recommendations: establish economics as a major for teachers in training.
Author: Sabine Kinkartz (jrb)
Editor: Sam Edmonds