Financial Education: How does that work?

From September 2014 it will be compulsory for schools to teach financial education. This will be built in to the mathematics and the citizenship curricula. See this article from the Daily Telegraph. Notice the picture of school life that they choose to illustrate the article with. This is how students learn; in rows at individual desks, looking seriously bored! The trouble is that a good proportion of the materials available for ‘financial education’ in schools is perfect for this scenario. Standard worksheet based discussion and practice activities are the norm and work in the same way that makes PSHE such a disappointing subject, taught by non-specialists, with no exam, it is hard to see the purpose when you are in school.

What makes these important things come alive is getting students into the setting. They have to care about the issue in order to engage with the ideas. I have seen fantastic drugs education sessions where former users and dealers have come in and talked to teenagers about their experience and where they are now. It is edgy, but it is real and they certainly listen!

Finance is tricky. Kids in school rarely have any real need to save with interest and if they have a bank account, their main worry is losing their cash. Certainly, they cannot borrow beyond their means or need to budget in a life changing way. Some, certainly, have life experiences that may necessitate any or all of these, but they are a small albeit important minority.

We have been working in financial education for over a decade. As a development of the Number Partners project which I was director of for many years, we designed a series of large format board games designed to set up scenarios in which players have to make important financial decisions: how to invest a small amount of capital, to generate profits to reinvest. Managing money between cash and different bank accounts, to enable purchasing but retaining security. Budgetting for a holiday and managing exchange rates. Making the life transition from school to work, while meeting your life goals.

The power of a board game is that the social setting frames the decision making. You are playing with real people who you have to engage with, framed by the settings of the games. The games were trialled in very ordinary schools, in classrooms with groups of students and have been widely used in different settings since. The effect is impressive. Students talk to each other about their financial decision making, developing strategies to succeed in that setting. Naturally, winning strategies involve good financial decision making.

We set up a web site to showcase the games. So see what you think. All of the games have teacher guides with extra materials and school use ideas. Please get back to us with your questions and thoughts. But, when you plan to deliver financial education this September, get your students into a setting in which they care. Only then will they be able to make decisions in a way that matters to them.

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