Obviously, there is a lot said about money at the moment, with the economic situation.
So, equally obviously, we teach children about it so they can function in the world – that being one of the points of education, being able to be a useful, productive member of society. Don’t we?
Well no, not really. I mentioned before that there is an idea of teaching financial capacity that is OK in theory, but that actually misses the main point. What teaching is done tends to be about economics, which, as I’ve also said before is about national rather than personal finance and doesn’t deal with individual differences. But at least it is a start.
I’ve met with the Personal Finance Education Group (PFEG) a couple of times in the last year or so. They are, as you can infer from the name, a charity that promotes (and provides materials for) the teaching of personal finance. They explained that it is very difficult to get personal finance included in the school day. There is lots of demand for time – there are basic things like reading and writing, and any number of other competing subjects from the essential to the frankly bonkers, all supposed to be included. So the poor old teacher is subject to the whim of political masters who are (with apologies to the minority who aren’t) mainly influenced by what they think will win them votes rather than what is actually most useful for children to learn.
Then there’s the funding. The PFEG is a charity. The Government has enough money to pay 650 or so MPs their salary, expenses (obviously) office costs, researchers, cars, houses and so on. Naturally, they are short of a few bob to fund education in something as important as personal finance. This could be because if people understood personal finance, they might work out what the politicians were up to (to quote Ben Elton, “bit of political satire there”!) Maybe, since the Belgians have managed without a Government for eight months or so and the sky hasn’t fallen in, we could suspend our Parliament for a year and put the billion pounds or so that we’d save into education. It would at least improve the prospects of the next generation, and would temporarily stop the current generation causing any more damage!
But the fact remains that the PFEG do pretty well to provide any materials to teach children some basic finance, even though I think (and they broadly agree) that it would be much better if we could also teach children “why” they are handling money, rather than only “how” to handle it.
Part of the “time” problem would be solved by integrating financial teaching into other fields. There are areas such as maths, history, citizenship etc. where means of working financial calculations or discussions into the main subject are relatively obvious. Most other subjects, geography, science, ICT, art & design, can include financial aspects, projects and debates, with a bit of thought. That means you don’t need “extra” lessons on finance, you just make the lessons you have more efficient. But planning that takes professional time, and that time costs money, and that money isn’t available.
So perhaps you’d like to help. There are some people trying to get some decent financial education into schools. There are a number of IFAs who give up time free (via the PFEG) to help with practical lessons. There are also a small number of individuals who, instead of saying “isn’t it awful, they ought to do something” (without specifying what ought to be done, or who “they” are who ought to do it) take the intiative. One of those is Julie Bayley, an IFA in the North of England who has started an SOS (Sponsor Our Schools) campaign.
I’m hoping to work with Julie and her colleagues to help include more about the “why” of money, and also integrate the “happiness agenda” as some enlightened schools are already doing.
But you can help too, by offering time, expertise and/or money. You can contact Julie or the PFEG (via the links above), you can contact me, you can start something yourself locally (but please link in to the others, since we’ll be more effective if we don’t all re-invent the wheel). But whatever you do, either help, or never complain again about shop assistants, people in call centres, etc. who “don’t seem to understand maths or have any common sense, I don’t know what they teach them in schools these days!”