Lessons in finance: schoolchildren taught the value of everything

Jul 23, 2014 by

When secondary schools return from the summer break, pupils will be taught saving, budgeting and public spending as part of the national curriculum

“Spend a little, save a little, life will be OK.” Manal Chaib, 13, reads out her “money promise” tweet to the rest of the class. “I want to spend so bad,” reads out another pupil.

A year-eight class at Heartlands High School in north London get a taste of lessons in the English national curriculum when secondary schools return from the summer break. With the introduction of financial education, 11- to 16-year-olds will solve money related maths problems and learn about public finances, pensions and how to budget.

In the wake of the debt-fuelled financial crisis charities lobbied hard for this change. In the classroom at Heartlands High School, pupils have mixed feelings.

“It’s probably as important as English and business studies,” says Karim Blake.

Chaib is worried about too much focus on saving. “We are teenagers. We should be able to spend on what we want. You should start worrying when you are 16 … I don’t want to get: ‘You are going to have a rubbish future.'”

Gabby Urbonaviciute is also unsure. “If it was for the whole time, I think it would get boring. Today is fun. Two lessons but not more than that,” she says while filling in a quiz on which celebrity spender she is most like – from “super saver” J K Rowling to “spenderholic” Mike Tyson.

This workshop is being run by MyBnk. Set up in 2007 it has so far helped 80,000 children with lessons on the difference between “needs and wants”, how to save, public spending, banking and enterprise.

Founder Lily Lapenna started the charity after working in international development in Africa and Asia. When she returned to London it was the calm before the great financial storm but Lapenna was already nervous about the build-up of personal debt.

“Credit flowed quickly and easily – overdrafts, credit cards and mortgages. Many of my friends were in debt but living fabulously without a clue of what APR meant nor how it impacted them,” she says, referring to the annual percentage rate (APR) measure of how much it costs to borrow money. “Something didn’t feel right. Sure, we could pay our monthly bills, but what if we lost our job, what would we do if our boiler packed up?”

She started classes for schoolchildren and since the onset of the financial crisis, demand for MyBnk’s sessions has soared. “We need to teach students to manage money. That was not the prevailing attitude pre-crash where thoughts were, they will learn from their parents,” says Lapenna.

“Demand has skyrocketed … Next year we are targeting a doubling of our reach to 40,000 young people.”

Since changes to the national curriculum were announced last November the charity has been providing classes that fit the new guidelines and anticipates even more demand from September. Under the changes, lessons in budgeting and public spending will be taught in citizenship and financial equations will be part of maths teaching.

There are doubts about whether the curriculum requirements go far enough and whether teachers will be well enough supported. But those who campaigned for financial education in schools have broadly welcomed the change.

Tope Chiedozie, an education officer for MyBnk, says such lessons are vital to help children understand basic concepts about earning, saving and spending before they leave home. He also wants them to gain skills they can put to use straight away. “Many schools have chicken and chip shops and newsagents nearby. When you look at their budgets and what they spend in a week it’s scary. Some of them are given £20 on Monday and on Tuesday have £2,” he says.

At schools in more affluent areas the challenge is teaching children about the value of money, says Chiedozie.

“Some kids I ask: Have you got a mobile phone, have you got a laptop, an iPad, a computer, a TV in your room?’ Some have all of them. Overindulgence like that doesn’t help the money in their hand have any value at all.”

Rhiannon Colvin, another trainer with MyBnk says financial education is as much about young people understanding the public finances as their own personal finances.

“I hope that they are empowered with the knowledge to make their own decisions and to have more say in how the economy works,” she says.

One thing that stands out wherever she runs sessions, says Colvin, is an entrenched view about how the government spends its money. “They are saying things like (money goes) to benefit scroungers. When you ask them what the government spends its money on you’d think that the first thing they would say is schools or hospitals but they say people who are not working. Those media messages filter down.”

Freddie Ewer co-founder of the financial education group RedStart says new teaching in the area must work towards changing attitudes in the UK.

“This has a huge role to play in ensuring we don’t end up with another huge debt driven financial crisis,” he says.

RedStart, spun out of a pensions adviser, is also seeing rising demand from schools for its sessions. It is recruiting companies in the financial sector to host and teach the workshops.

“I think the financial crisis has brought a shift in financial responsibility away from government and big business to individuals, for example, in pensions, tuition fees, increasing use of private healthcare. If you are going to put all this responsibility on the shoulders of people you need to have an education system that explains to them at a young age how basic financial concepts work,” says Ewer.

There are worries that the national curriculum changes will leave many children behind. MyBnk points out there are still no compulsory financial lessons for anyone over 16, when they may be facing big financial decisions. Also, academies and free schools can opt out of teaching the national curriculum.

Teachers themselves will need training or outside help, say charities.

“A lot of these people who are being asked to teach financial education have never been taught it themselves,” says RedStart’s Ewer.

The deputy head at Heartlands, Alice Clay, is hopeful that given her school has included financial education in classes for some time, the new term will not bring a significant shift. But she expects some areas of the new curriculum to be more challenging than others.

“The children are really interested in the enterprise part of things and business planning. We have to work harder to keep them interested in personal finance issues,” she says.

Adult habits

Campaigners for financial education say the government must not stop at September’s changes to the national curriculum.

Cambridge University research suggests adult money habits are set in by the time children are seven. The charity Personal Finance Education Group (Pfeg) wants financial education extended to all primary schools, including academies and free schools not bound to follow the national curriculum.

About 90% of teachers do not believe the government has done enough in introducing financial education into secondary schools, according to a recent survey from Pfeg. More than 80% said financial education must begin in primary school.

The Cambridge University study, published by the Money Advice Service, found that by the age of seven most children have grasped how to recognise the value of money and to count it out, how money can be exchanged for goods, and what it means to earn money.

via Lessons in finance: schoolchildren taught the value of everything | Business | The Guardian.

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