Spring 2009 | Finding the balance
By Lisa Strandberg
Lessons honed at St. Norbert find their way to the world’s classrooms
We live in a shrinking world. In fact, one premise has each of us connected to every person on the planet through no more than six steps of acquaintance.
Sandy Odorzynski (Economics), that number may be even smaller. As chief economist for EconomicsInternational’s Training of Trainers program, she can claim just two steps between herself and thousands of elementary and secondary school students in places as far-flung as Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East – youngsters for whom the economics lessons she helps assemble and disperse can forge the way to personal and national financial stability.
An effort of the Council for Economic Education (CEE – formerly the National Council on Economic Education), the EconomicsInternational Training of Trainers program aims to create an international corps of well-trained educators who advocate for and advance economic literacy among their nations’ young people. “It’s about knowledge and equipping people with the knowledge they need to be economically savvy,” says Barbara DeVita, director of EconomicsInternational at the CEE.
Funded by the United States Department of Education in coordination with the Department of State, the Training of Trainers program, launched in 1995, has historically targeted countries with transitional economies in which capitalism and, eventually, democracy could take hold. In the mid-1990s, Odorzynski says, “the primary emphasis was in the Eastern European area and the satellites of the Soviet Union that had fallen apart.”
It was to that region, and particularly Ukraine, that Odorzynski first found herself traveling as an instructor for an EconomicsInternational teacher workshop some 13 years ago. “Early on, the national council were looking for ‘low-maintenance’ people,” Odorzynski says – those who could handle less-than-ideal accommodations, including cold, drafty hotels that occasionally lacked hot water and electricity.
Even under such conditions, Odorzynski relished the experience. “I just got very excited by the idea of making a different impact than I had on traditional undergraduate students,” she says.
Following that first workshop, she began teaching in the more involved Training of Trainers program. As part of the annual program, she and a team of professors from across the U.S. work with more than 50 educators from universities, government education agencies, teacher training institutes, schools and non-governmental organizations. Their goal: to cover economic theory alongside innovative instruction methods appropriate for K-12 students.
With a dense curriculum covered in four one-week seminars over the course of an academic year, demands on both instructors and pupils are high. “It’s a hefty responsibility. We do the teaching over six days, and it’s from morning ’til night,” Odorzynski says. “In a week’s time, participants get probably a semester’s worth of material.”
Most often, they absorb that material readily. But occasionally Odorzynski has encountered, if not resistance, then measured doubt among participants educated and entrenched in planned economies. “There were a lot of skeptics to win over in those early days,” she says. “[Participants] would sometimes stand up in the seminar and start espousing their viewpoint even though they were there to learn something else.”
From Eastern Europe, CEE’s Training of Trainers has expanded, with participants now drawn from South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, South America and beyond. What those participants learn has been influenced significantly by Odorzynski since 2003, when she became Training of Trainers’ chief economist, managing annual changes in seminar content.
“It’s a huge job. There’s probably more than 1,000 pages of instructional material involved with the program,” DeVita says.
That material fills the toolboxes of trainers around the world. Over the years, more than 1,100 program graduates from 34 countries are estimated to have reached 13.5 million students with new approaches to economics instruction, according to the CEE. Such instruction, it is hoped, will impact the lives of individuals and, in turn, the economic course of nations.
“You don’t have to look far to find the devastating effects of economic illiteracy,” says Odorzynski, pointing to the current economic crisis as evidence. “The U.S. is a fairly well-developed country, but the difference between those who have and those who haven’t is huge. ... [Economic literacy] helps to close the gap.
“When it comes to countries outside the U.S., those in transition, it’s even more critical. ... You have a lot more of the people who don’t have, and who can change their countries for the better if good, solid decisions are made.”
Odorzynski says the countries in which she’s taught are not alone in realizing growth as a result of the program; she and her students in De Pere have done so as well. “I know I’m a little better teacher at St. Norbert because of this work I’ve done internationally.”
The Multiplier Effect
Intended to advance economic literacy worldwide, the Council for Economic Education’s EconomicsInternational Training of Trainers program has educated many teachers and professors during its nearly 14 years of existence. However, the program more heavily targets trainers – those who teach others how to teach – to increase its impact.
“CEE prides itself on the multiplier effect,” says Odorzynski. She has served as an instructor for the program almost since its inception. “They focus on training participants who will be trainers, so the maximum results can be achieved. If they trained only teachers, not as many other teachers would be reached.”
The program has also aimed to involve influential government officials like Irina Parkemenko, who served as a department of education vice minister in Ukraine when she participated in CEE’s Training of Trainers. “Following the completion of her training, she became a strong advocate for economic education and played a significant role in the formation of curriculum standards in economics for the country. In addition, she supported the successful passage of a new mandate in Ukraine for a compulsory course in economics at the high school level,” Odorzynski says.
While Training of Trainers certainly invites participation by strategic players like Parkemenko, it sometimes creates unanticipated advocates, as it did with Nadia Kardash of Belarus, a one-time Russian translator for the program. Kardash’s involvement with Training of Trainers piqued her interest in economic education, a subject in which she eventually pursued a doctorate in the U.S. She now conducts research here – research that may one day make its way into the Training of Trainers’ curriculum.
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