Sources of Students’ Misconceptions in Economics, pp. 4 of 15

The above table shows that students' conceptions of the basic concept of allocative efficiency were distorted in five different ways. Only the sixth answer was correct. The findings suggest that lay interpretations prevailed in their thinking despite one year of formal coursework.   

My observations of students’ responses in economics classes in several junior colleges in Singapore also suggest that the prior knowledge of students seems to interfere with their learning. For instance, students tend to have the consumers’ perspective but not the producers’ so that in their mental models there is a demand side but not a supply side of the market. Students also view firms invariably as price-setters who will lower price to sell more of their product, without considering that firms may be price takers with limited market power. They go on to assume that firms will earn more revenue from selling more (which is not always the case with a price fall). Such observations evidenced that students have definite conceptions of how the economy works before they start their economics course and that their prior knowledge in the form of such layperson conceptions impedes their grasp of economic theory.

The examples below taken from responses by local students during lesson observations in junior colleges illustrate how students’ prior knowledge interferes with their grasp of economic ideas.

Example One: “When the price of furniture drops, the quantity demanded will not rise. My family won’t buy any new furniture as we already have our own furniture!”

In this example, a student challenges the law of demand based on his personal experience as a consumer. The student only sees from the perspective of his household and has not considered market-wide demand. He has limited his thinking to his family’s consumption behavior without factoring into the discussion the overall market demand which comprise market segments like homes, hotels and businesses.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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