(by Martin Pioch)
As part of the PRIMO outreach activities I visited my former high school Gymnasium Buckhorn in Hamburg, Germany, and held a workshop with two classes about the global economy, the WTO, and emerging economies. During an alumni reunion half a year ago I met with my former teacher Dr. Hubert Rinklake, who is also teaching PGW (Politik, Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft – politics, society, and economy). After talking about my current work in the framework of the PRIMO network, he expressed strong interest in also discussing those highly relevant issues with his pupils. At the same time my PRIMO outreach activities anyway contained a workshop day, it all fitted very well together.
In May 2017 then, while I was on a short trip in the city, I visited my former high school and gave a 4 hour workshop to around 40 pupils from 9th and 10th grade. It was astonishing to see, how much those 15 to 16 year old pupils already knew about the global economy, about tariffs, about the European Common Market, or even about emerging economies. The normal curriculum of the pupils includes normally only simple economics and the functions of the European Union. Therefore, the WTO and emerging economies was a very new and interesting issue for the pupils, especially considering the origin of all the products they are using on a daily basis. We collected all their knowledge and then looked detailed at the underlying structure of international trade, in order to understand the greater picture of the global economy.
The workshop began with a short introduction of my personal career and the quite tricky questions to the pupils, whether anybody already knows if they want to study at a university after graduation, whether anyone would like to live and work in another country, and who might actually be interested in working in academia. Of course this led to very mixed answers, however the opportunities of a globalized world offers much more opportunities to their future careers, then in previous generations. However, most of the pupils had of course very little ideas about their future after graduation. Therefore we then spoke about my current live in Russia and about my PRIMO colleagues in the other 8 countries. For the pupils is was interesting to hear about the small differences in the everyday life, and understood that the similarities that exist inside of the EU are not global standards.
Next we looked at more substantial issues, as the functions of the WTO, a short introductions of the single BRICS countries and their economies, and the importance of the global economy for Germany. The pupils were very aware of the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg and asked a lot of questions in this regard. In general Dr. Rinklake and I organized always small introductions to the single topics and then let the discussion follow the questions of the pupils, and they had a lot of them. Thanks to the digital smart board in the classroom, we could study many issues with the help of maps, graphs or pictures, to visualize the respective issues.
During the final question round many pupils obviously asked a lot about the future of Germany, the Euro and the European Union, however also some had questions about US President Trump, the role of China and asked which countries I would recommend to work in. And the questions, why Mexico or China will not just simply sue the USA at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, if President Trump introduces punitive tariffs, showed me, that some of them really could take away substantial knowledge – however I had to disappoint them with my answer, that those dispute often take several years, and might only be solved at a time when there might be a new face in the White House.
At the end of the workshop Dr. Rinklake asked the pupils to summarize what they have learned, and many answered that they now much better understand the complexity and coherences of the global economy. Some said that they learned that working in academia is more than just teaching students, and also appreciated the overview of job opportunities in political economy that I gave them. And others highlighted the knowledge about other countries outside of the EU, which they do not discuss so often at school. All in all I guess this workshop was a great opportunity for the pupils to get an introduction into a very important area that might strongly affect their future lives. But also I learned a lot about how to prepare, present, and discuss a workshop with people, who have a little less knowledge about my professional area, than my colleagues from the academic ivory towers.
Group picture with some of the 9th graders after the workshop.