Financial education is vital for every child, but they need to know that greed isn’t good. Let’s make sure we’re not creating the wolf cubs of wall street, says Lloyd Burgess...
A decade ago many of us lived in a world blissfully unaware of terms like credit crunch, sub-prime mortgage and toxic debt. But the recession soon made the global economy everyone’s business.
Children need to know the basic skills that will help them manage money every day, so that they can avoid the financial pitfalls that many adults find themselves in today. This isn’t something that can wait until they grow up and get a job to learn, as bad habits and impulses are formed at an alarmingly young age.
“Research published a few years ago suggested that a lot of habits and attitudes around money are actually formulated by the age of seven,” says Steve Stillwell, Director of Education for pfeg (pfeg.org). “Our research suggests that before they start secondary school, 64 per cent of children get their first bank account, and 62 per cent get their first mobile phone. Money is part of their lives.”
While financial education isn’t mandatory in primary schools, there are organisations out there helping schools to teach children about money. Holy Trinity Primary School in London, for example, is part of a project called Europe’s Got Talent, which is designed to teach children how to become entrepreneurs. “Schools in seven different countries had to come up with a business idea,” says Year 4 teacher Sotira Syllis. “Everybody in our school put forward suggestions, and we picked the one we thought would work best, a t-shirt company with positive slogans. So the whole school focused on that as a project, and it won.” The young entrepreneur who came up with the idea was 10-year-old Nia Addo-Quintyne, whose prize was to open the London Stock Exchange for trading.
“We got some of the children’s parents who have their own business in to speak,” says Sotira. “And last year we did UCL’s Citrus Saturday, which involved setting up their own lemonade stand, and thinking about costing, financing, pricing up their lemonade, working out profit. I’ve been really surprised about their knowledge of the skills and qualities required.”
While it’s important for children to learn about where money comes from, how you earn it and how you can invest it, the goal shouldn’t be to create a generation of contestants for The Apprentice. Most people will deal with more everyday elements of money such as debt management, mortgage payments and budgeting, so financial education needs to come with an inherent sense of social responsibility, something that Steve Stillwell believes comes with promoting the right ideas about money.
“It’s not simply about the knowledge and skills, it’s about the attitudes,” he says. “It’s important that children talk about the pros and cons of money and look at wider issues, rather than just about earning and spending. I’d hope the message isn’t ‘earn as much as you can’, that would be quite worrying.”
One company promoting great ideals is Aflatoun (aflatoun.org), which aims to give children the skills to become successful in their lives, not just for themselves, but for the rest of society. “Reckless spending, debt, and a lack of knowledge about the value of money and the importance of saving are burdens for children,” says Diana Toleikyte, Aflatoun’s Deputy Executive Director. “Education needs to change so that when young people leave the system they are better equipped to stay out of debt, pursue a career they are interested in, or start a business they have dreamt up. Their financial life will be under control and they will always do business with a strong focus on sociability and sustainability over profit.”
You don’t need to become a financial expert overnight to teach it, there are many places out there that can give you hints, tips, ideas and frameworks for integrating financial education into the curriculum. You can download pfeg’s financial education planning frameworks at tinyurl.com/TPFramework, or get free advice from its ASKpfeg service. You can also check out things like the Lifesavers project (tinyurl.com/TPLifesavers) and Young Enterprise’s Fiver Challenge (tinyurl.com/TPFiver). Talk to local businesses, see if you can get a trip to a bank, and most importantly talk to children about money. You needn’t tell them your salary, or divulge how much you splurged on internet shopping last weekend, but even if these children grow up in a world that no longer has physical currency, they will still need to know about finances every day for the rest of their lives.