Economic and financial literacy is a fundamental life skill for finding one's way in today's complex world. Iconomix makes a valuable contribution to this by providing mostly experience-oriented teaching and learning materials. The following provides answers to two pertinent questions: Why and how?
Iconomix is an educational programme offered by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) with the goal of promoting economic and financial literacy in Switzerland. To achieve this, Iconomix specializes in providing teaching and learning materials to support teachers of economics and humanities at Swiss upper secondary schools (vocational schools, upper secondary specialized schools and baccalaureate schools).
The number of teachers of economics and humanities at upper secondary schools in Switzerland is just over 4,200. This allows for a clearly defined, manageable target group with which a firm and long-term customer relationship can be established. Long-term because, unlike the school-age population, the teaching workforce remains relatively stable over time.
The downside of targeting teachers instead of students is that Iconomix has no control over how the provided teaching material is applied in class.
However, we do not see this as a disadvantage, because teaching is the teacher’s core business for which they are trained and specialised. Iconomix does not want to interfere here, but rather aims to enable teachers to do the best job possible.
The core product of Iconomix are around 100 teaching units offered in three national languages (Ge, Fr, It). Some of them are also available in English, specifically designed for the bilingual education in Switzerland.
Each teaching unit is a bundle, consisting of a so-called ‘highlight’– for example 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.
Teachers use Iconomix resources in addition to their own material and the existing economics and humanities textbooks. Accordingly, a teacher rarely uses the offering as a whole, but selects maybe one or two units per year. This cherry-picking on part of the teachers is intended since 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 everyday life to understanding central macroeconomic relationships.
In addition, Iconomix addresses current topics such as digitalization, population aging, 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.
The didactic concept of Iconomix is action-oriented, hence it is not just based on transmitting factual knowledge, but on showing students how this knowledge can be put to use in real-life situations, and on fostering students’ willingness to do so.
This is why in most Iconomix units the so-called ‘highlight’ consists of a game, a simulation or a case study. Those are door openers. They motivate students to engage with a topic, which then triggers the reflection and learning process.
The SNB launched Iconomix in 2007 with the aim of promoting basic economic and financial 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. In 2011, the basic funding of the responsible unit was limited by the bank management to CHF 0.7 million per year (approximately EUR 0.7 million) and the number of staff was 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.
Iconomix is web-based, meaning that the entire programme is centred around its web platform, which is also the main channel of communication towards the target group (the teachers).
However, direct interaction with the teachers is just as important. These interactions happen mainly through the organisation of training events and symposia, whether on-site as physical events or as video conferences.
Since almost all young people in Switzerland complete upper secondary level schooling, the student population reflects population heterogeneity at large. In other words, there are big differences between students in terms of cognitive abilities and prior knowledge. The needs and methodological preferences of teachers are similarly diverse.
In addition, Iconomix is present in the three language regions of Switzerland. Since these language regions differ not only linguistically but also culturally, this adds another level of heterogeneity to an already diverse target group of teachers and students at the upper secondary level
All this calls for a great variety of topics, didactic approaches and teaching scenarios.
14 years after its launch, Iconomix is actively used by 40 percent of its target group, with similar penetration in all parts of the country (Ge, Fr, It). This makes it the most frequently used supplementary educational programme at the Swiss upper secondary level.
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."