Time’s ripe for financial literacy students can bank on

Financial education is gaining renewed attention due an increase in financial scams, banks and financial institutions being banned from providing branded programs to schools and a new breed of ‘finfluencers’ looking set to slip into their place.

Students are financially active from a young age – they observe financial transactions when shopping, make purchasing decisions using cash and gift cards, and have probably purchased game-based currency.

School market days and fundraising activities are often planned by year 5 and 6 students taking on the role of entrepreneur. In secondary school, many students work in a family business or part-time job.

Young people are vulnerable to financial traps. Credit:Simon Bosch

School education needs to build on these experiences, giving students the knowledge to make financial decisions, while safely managing risks.

Ideas for how to do this are everywhere.

Fintech is changing the way we transact and manage our money. It’s important to prepare students to transact safely online and via apps, and read and interpret digital financial statements like what they’ll see via mobile banking, Medicare and MyGov.

A desire to fit in, cashless spending, and easy access to credit can lead to costly mistakes for teenagers and young adults. Students benefit from opportunities to develop awareness of their financial motivations and behaviour. Being a shopaholic, addiction to video games (think in-game purchases) and sports betting are topical examples for exploring financial motivation and self-regulation.

Students who are mathematically literate are more likely to be financially literate. So, it is important that students learn to identify and assess the risks and rewards associated with more complex financial products and services, including the trade-offs involved when selecting from different borrowing, insurance and investment options.

While challenging and sensitive, students must explore the dark side of finance if they are to develop scepticism and resilience, and an ethics of care in how they use money. Studying cases of financial deception, corruption and fraud help students to identify abuses of privilege and power.

The Australian Curriculum includes some aspects of finance in mathematics, humanities and economics subjects, but it is not holistic, nor well-contextualised to students’ real-world experiences. Students might get the chance to do a few simple calculations, but they’ll likely wonder when and how they’ll use this learning again.

Teachers believe that financial education is important, but they tend to lack confidence and knowledge of best practice.

Most commercial solutions explore topics for personal money matters. But what they offer is no substitute for school-led programs taught by qualified educators who know the curriculum and students.

School leaders and teachers need support to prioritise financial education and, if they’re looking for off-the-shelf resources or programs, help to sort out what’s quality and what’s not.

Policymakers, curriculum and content developers must take a deeper look at how they can support schools and teachers to improve our financial literacy education. Students are relying on it.

Peter Saffin is CEO of the Mathematical Association of Victoria. Dr Carly Sawatzki and Dr Jill Brown are from Deakin University’s School of Education.

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