Economic and financial literacy is a fundamental life skill for finding one's way in today's complex world. Iconomix makes an important contribution to this with mostly experience-oriented teaching and learning materials. The following story provides answers to two pertinent questions: Why and how?
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) runs an educational programme, called Iconomix. The mission of the programme is to support teachers of economics and humanities at Swiss upper secondary schools (vocational schools, upper secondary specialized schools and baccalaureate schools) and to become integrated in the school context.
Experience-oriented and focused on real-life situations, the Iconomix teaching resources make economics and humanities classes much more stimulating and fun – and thus ensure long-term learning benefits.
The number of teachers of economics and humanities at upper secondary schools in Switzerland is just over 4,200. With this clearly defined and manageable target group a firm customer relationship can be established. This is because, unlike the school-age population, the teaching workforce remains relatively stable over time.
The downside of this indirect approach is that Iconomix has no control over how the provided teaching material is applied in class. The application in the classroom lies in the teachers' responsibilities. Teaching is their core business, and for this, they are trained and specialised. Iconomix does not want to interfere here, but rather enable teachers to do the best job possible.
The means of choice to achieve the above mentioned goal are teaching units offered in three national languages (Ge, Fr, It). Some of them are also available in English, especially for bilingual education in Switzerland.
A teaching unit is a bundle, consisting of a so-called ‘highlight’ (e.g. a class game), a set of application-oriented exercises (with sample answers for the teachers), support material for the teachers (presentations, game instructions, supplementary didactic notes), and links as well as videos on the topic.
The focus of Iconomix is on active, experiential learning. Accordingly, the offering includes educational games, simulations and case studies – both analogue and digital – on various economic issues, such as the division of labour and trade, market and price formation, and digital financial competence (not all of them are available in English).
Iconomix is designed as a complementary resource for teachers in Swiss upper secondary schools. Teachers can use it in addition to their own material and the existing economics and humanities textbooks. Accordingly, a teacher never uses the offering as a whole, but selects maybe one or two units per year. What we observe is a kind of cherry-picking on the part of the teachers – and this is exactly what we want. After all, Iconomix is designed to complement the curriculum, not substitute it.
The thematic scope of Iconomix is defined by 17 basic economic principles. They are comparatively simple, broadly applicable key economic concepts that are useful for understanding numerous economic situations – from individual decisions in the everyday life to understanding central macroeconomic relationships.
In addition, Iconomix addresses current topics such as digitalization, the aging of the population, urbanization or climate change – four focus topics of recent years. Such topics are interesting from a didactic point of view because they are cross-over topics, whereby Iconomix naturally emphasizes the economic aspects in each case.
Skills orientation is a particular concern for us. That is, the didactic concept is not just based on transmitting factual knowledge, but on showing how this knowledge can be put to use in real-life situations, and on fostering students’ willingness to do so.
The SNB launched Iconomix in 2007 with the aim of promoting basic economic literacy in Switzerland. Given that monetary policy decisions have immediate consequences for the Swiss population, as many people as possible should be able to understand the considerations behind them. In Switzerland, where citizens regularly vote on economic issues at all levels of government, a good understanding of how the economy works is particularly important.
Iconomix is 100% financed and supported by the SNB. The unit’s basic funding was limited in 2011 by the bank’s management to CHF 0.7 million per year (approximately EUR 0.65 million) and staff numbers are limited to 3.3 full-time equivalents (0.5 of which are managerial) plus an average of 2.0 interns. This allocation of financial and human resources has proven to be sustainable over the years.
Since almost all young people in Switzerland go through the upper secondary level – although it is non-compulsory –, the heterogeneity among students is quite large . It obviously more or less corresponds to that in the population.
In other words, the differences between students in terms of cognitive abilities and prior knowledge are big. Therefore, for each topic we have to think very carefully about who we are preparing it for. And by the same token, we have to think carefully about which topics are relevant for which target group segment. The needs and (methodological) preferences of teachers are also extraordinarily diverse.
In addition, Iconomix is present in the three language regions of Switzerland. This means that the already heterogeneous target group of teachers and students at upper secondary level is additionally divided among these three language regions, which differ not only linguistically but also culturally. All this calls for a great variety of topics, approaches and teaching formats.
Iconomix is web-based, meaning that the entire offering is centred around its web platform, which is also the main channel of communication towards the target group. However, direct interaction with the teachers is just as important. This mainly takes place through the organisation of training events and symposia, whether on-site as physical events or as video conferences.
14 years after its launch, Iconomix has reached a relatively large part of its target group. In 2021, almost 40 % of the relevant teachers had a user account with www.iconomix.ch and used the web platform at least once during that year.
Many teachers from other school levels – and even from abroad – also use the web platform, but their numbers are not reported because they are not part of the target group.
In German, French and Italian, the name "Iconomix" is pronounced like the English word "economics". In these languages, then, the name is a playful version of the term "economics."