This year I complete two decades of my engagement with the disciplines of accountancy and management. In 1996, when I joined class 11, I started on my journey with the two subjects by making, what at that time, seemed a simple choice between studying the theories of management and cutting frogs! I chose the former, without realizing the significance that choice would have on the rest of my life. I grew up loving the field and eventually taught it briefly in school, before moving on to becoming a commerce pedagogue. The inspiration to write this article comes from my numerous interactions with students in college, with nephews and nieces studying in school, and heated discussions with numerous colleagues.
Commerce, popularly labelled as best suited for materialistic, money-minded, shrewd individuals, is most misjudged. Its potential to build responsible, mature individuals remains unrecognized and is often shrouded by the label of developing a disrespect for ethics and humanitarian values. This frustration is now being poured out on paper. As I write, I am thinking about the many children who engage with trade and market on an everyday basis. And here I refer to not just the street and working children but all those who frequent market places with their parents. The kinds of market places that children are exposed to may vary from an air-conditioned shopping mall, online shopping portals, local markets, melas, weekly bazaars, to fairs set up for special festivals and the like. There is hardly a child who remains unexposed to trade in his/her everyday life. This exposure often starts as early as 3-4 years of age. And this isn’t what can be termed as an emerging trend. On the contrary, this has been a common practice for families across time. Melas have been places of family outings. To believe that children are not exposed to trade, therefore, is somewhat like being an ostrich.
What this raises is a fundamental debate about when children should be taught commerce. While I acknowledge that there seems to be little need to explain to toddlers the nitty gritty of how accounts are maintained, I see no reason why lessons about the kinds of trade they see around them are not important. Do children not need to understand what banks are and what they do? What does it mean when they say that their mother or aunt is a manager in a big company? It is common, atleast in urban and sub-urban areas, for children to get a weekly or monthly allowance or pocket money. Should they not be taught the basics of personal economics and learn to manage their own finances? To decide when to splurge and when to save for the rainy day?
What is even more troublesome is that many of these lessons, even when they are integrated in other subjects such as social sciences, mathematics, and even value education, are not acknowledged as lessons in commerce. Unsurprisingly, as adolescents making choices of streams they wish to study further in class 11, students feel alienated from commerce and take it somewhat grudgingly as the respectable space between the ‘intellectual’ science and ‘underachieving’ humanities’ student.
Another significant dimension is the more or less unexplored potential of commerce to develop ethical and responsible citizens. While dealing with money is a significant part of accountancy and business studies, there is no reason to believe that studies in the same should be restricted to only profit making and exploitation. Teaching in these classes should in fact address how money can be used for the greater good of people around us. The recent demonetization drive has also brought to light the need to prepare children to face economic and political changes with commercial sense. Commerce teachers can use this as an opportunity to build an attitude of honesty towards work undertaken and business transactions. The concept of black money, how it is linked to those in the privileged class, and what are the implications of earning black money on the economy, need to be addressed in the classroom. Children also need to understand that earning through unfair means can have legal implications. In addition, teachers can link it to lessons in economics, highlighting the need for money to remain within the organized banking system. Hoarding cash at home does not contribute to the growth of the economy, nor does it earn investment returns. This can lead to discussion on making an investment portfolio that allows for quick withdrawals in times of need. Commercial ventures should be ethically practiced to serve others well and improve general living conditions of all and not just a select few. Why did the government need to start a demonetization drive? Why were notes of higher denomination alone targeted? How is this linked to terrorism in the country? What does it mean for the general public across different classes? These are important questions that would build a generation that has learnt to use commercial education for bringing equality and dignity for all.
Part of these changes need to be made by the individual teacher. But a large part of this change probably requires the attention of curriculum developers and textbook writers who have hitherto only looked at commerce education from the standpoint of the capitalist owner/producer.
The author is Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, University of Delhi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.