Meet the 17-year-old “Democratizer” of Economics Education

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Le Dong Hai “DoHa” Nguyen FRSA, a student activist from Vietnam, is disrupting the status-quo of economics education among pre-undergraduate students in developing countries.

Since Adam Smith FRSA, “the Father of Economics,” written the Wealth of Nations in 1776, the state of economic science has presented equations and mathematical formulas to dictate individuals’ unpredictable behaviors. Colloquially known as mainstream economics, the current approach to this highly hypothetical discipline has pretentiously masked it as a hard science. “It treats human—an everchanging social agent—as ‘atomic particles’ like what Physics or Chemistry do,” says Le Dong Hai “DoHa” Nguyen, also an FRSA (Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) like Adam Smith himself. Mr. Nguyen is the Founder and Executive Director of the Global Association of Economics Education (GAEE), a multinational student-led 501c3 NGO working to “democratize and revolutionize access to economics education.”

Following the Great Recession, several organizations—from Rethinking Economics, World Economics Association (WEA) to The Economics Network, and GAEE itself—have been advocating for a more diversified approach to economics pedagogy. What struck Nguyen most, however, is the lack of advocacy groups devoted to increasing access to “economics literacy” in developing countries. “We have seen a grassroots movement in economic pluralism. We have yet to see a comparable one in democratizing economics education itself,” Nguyen says. 

He is not alone in feeling this way. Nan Morrison, CEO of the Council for Economic Education (CEE), asserts that “in America we spend billions of dollars helping our children master reading, writing and arithmetic, and yet we send them out into the world lacking the basic skills to prosper in life: an understanding of economics and personal finance.” The financial-literacy crisis, however, is much more prevailing in developing countries. Unlike developed nations in Western Europe and North America, those like Mr. Nguyen’s homeland Vietnam do not integrate economics or personal finance into its formal K-12 curriculum. “[These countries] can benefit greatly if all high school graduates can understand what opportunity cost is about,” says Nguyen. “No matter what your profession is, knowing how to make the most of your resources or make the most sagacious economic decision wouldn’t hurt.” Through a network of affiliated economics clubs, forums, and training-of-trainers workshops, his organization has provided fifteen hundred members in more than eight countries with access to world-class resources in introductory economics and personal finance. 

“The work doesn’t stop there,” says Mark Chen, a Hongkong-based member of the CORE Education Team, the nerve-center of GAEE’s well-regarded curriculum. “We realized that the problem [with the current state of economics teaching] is first, it is not available for everyone, and secondly, it is not relatable to a layperson, especially the youth.” The Team has since worked to transform the conventional curriculum into redacted, engaging, and interactive learning activities that appeal to everyone—not just those looking for economic priesthood. Along with volunteer-taught lessons at its affiliated academic clubs, GAEE is looking to employ digital technologies—such as the currently beta-tested GAEE’s Home App, widely-proclaimed by Gizmodo Blog as one of the first economics learning apps for mobile devices—to reach more students in remote areas. Its global network has been recognized by the World Economics Association (WEA) as a prominent student group “working for the reform of economics education” on a worldwide scale.

Besides a team of highly-driven youth, GAEE also collaborated with and received assistance from a dozen high-profile parties—which have since included the United Nations, AIESEC, Financial Times, Google, and many others. “As GAEE is in a very ‘niche’ area of the nonprofit education sector, support from our partners and patrons is highly critical to our operations across the world,” says Nguyen.

With the organization’s expanding reach across the globe, the seventeen-year-old aspiring economist and student activist hopes that GAEE will serve as a catalystnot only to promote pluralism in economics, but also to make the study of economics itself “not just for the privileged few.”

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