A few months ago, I published a post (a) regarding a research project that we were starting with Anna Luisa Paffhausen and which aims to analyze the way in which development economics is taught. in developing countries. In part thanks to the contributions of our readers, we have managed to collect a body of curricula, quizzes and exams from 145 undergraduate university courses in 54 developing countries and 81 graduate courses in 34 developing countries. We then compared them to equivalent undergraduate courses in the United States, at the top 20 courses in the country, and at 20 other institutions outside of this list. We have produced a preliminary document(a) that I would like to submit to our readers for their comments.
What Do We Teach in Development Economics Courses?
- There is not a very standardized view of the fundamental aspects of development. In developing countries, only four of the 22 subjects we looked at are taught in at least half of all undergraduate courses: Theory of Growth, Poverty and Inequality, Human Capital, and Institutions. The courses taught in the best American courses are much more likely to deal with credit markets, notions of risk and insurance, land markets, data analysis and experimental methods than in developing countries, where more coverage is given to dependency theory, the environment and macroeconomic management.
- Developing courses are much more heterogeneous in the country and the United States. Based on similarity indices, we show that, both in the first cycle and in the second, development economics tuition courses that are taught in developing countries are less homogeneous with each other than undergraduate courses in United States. Additionally, an undergraduate course in a developing country has on average only 23% common content with courses taught at top US universities.
- Several important topics are rarely taught. These include entrepreneurship, business growth and international migration.
How Is Development Economics Taught?
- In developing countries, the data revolution has yet to reach development economics lessons:
- At the level of the topics covered: in developing countries, the courses are oriented more on concepts and models and less on empirical observations than in the United States.
- At the assessment level: Developing countries rely heavily on written exams, essays and lectures, and very rarely require students to use software or statistical data.
- Regarding the choice of reference books: courses offered by developing countries and American universities outside the top 20 are more frequently based on the work by Todaro and Smith (2014), which was published in 1993 and is at its 12 the edition, and rely heavily on case studies and generalizations, while the best course relies instead on the empirical work of Banerjee and Duflo (2011) and the theoretical manual Ray (1998).
How to Explain These Differences?
We measure the similarities between each of the courses taught in developing countries and those in the top 20 U.S. institutions, and then analyze which country and teacher characteristics correlate with this degree of similarity. And we find that the courses taught in the poorest countries differ more from those in the best American universities (see figure below). This is also the case in countries where the state is heavily involved in the economy and those where education levels are generally lower. These differences tend to become blurred for courses taught by professors who are actively involved in research.
What Can Be Improved?
This transformation is reflected in the evolution of the subjects on which most of the research is focused, and particularly in the rapid increase in the availability of data and empirical analytical work. Our study of how development economics is taught in developing countries suggests that many courses have failed to keep pace with this development and fall short of a key teaching objective: to empower students. exploit data and analyze it critically to find answers to economic questions. This is an essential aspect,
We have several suggestions for improving the teaching of development economics in developing countries (but also in a number of universities in developed countries).
And It Is Especially On This Point That We Invite Our Readers to Share Their Innovative Ideas with Us:
- Take advantage of the increased availability of macro- and micro-data to ask students to perform basic data analyzes on their country. This can consist of calculating poverty rates, plotting Lorenz curves or even performing simple regressions that do not require complex statistical knowledge.
- In addition to this, you need to know more about it. Have students work in teams to collect and analyze basic data on their country. This can include going to the markets to try to understand how the competition between the different stalls works, to collect data on the wages practiced in different labor markets over several weeks to assess the stability of the work. employee, or to visit companies to see how they protect themselves against currency risk. This last example is one of my most memorable assignments during my studies in New Zealand: we each had to interview five companies to find out how they protected themselves against this risk, then share our experiences. More ambitiously, one could also develop surveys based on small panels and ask each new contingent of students to return to the same places year after year to build in-depth knowledge of the functioning of the local economy. Do you know of any examples of undergraduate (or graduate) courses that practice this type of activity in developing countries?
- Don’t just work on reference books. Have students read newspapers, blogs, or magazines to apply what they learn to the economic debates going on in their country.
- Consider new, more efficient ways of sharing taught content among teachers.
Our analysis revealed that very few educational programs are available on the web (with the notable exception of a repository of Singapore development economics programs produced by the Development Economics tuition Singapore Education Network). Regional associations could also play another role in in-service training, helping teachers to better integrate the empirical approach into their lessons.
Teachers and students, let us know your comments and ideas on this topic. Thank you in advance!