September 16, 2020
Most attitudes towards the education system at present focus around parental gratitude that children are resuming the development that was so abruptly checked when the pandemic shuttered schools back in the spring. But as schools edge back to familiarity – let’s ignore the lack of school dinners and after-school clubs and the presence of bubbles and staggered start times for sanity’s sake – it’s time to once again address the bigger issues that have fallen down the agenda as the country has defaulted to crisis mode.
Chief among these topics is ensuring the curriculum remains fit for purpose and, within that, ensuring financial literacy is factored into this thinking. You might have missed it – and I certainly did – but financial education became part of the secondary school curriculum in 2014, although anecdotal evidence suggests that learning institutions have been somewhat confused as to how to implement this effectively.
There are also wider societal implications to consider too; behavioural shifts such as the move towards a cashless society may be convenient (as well as Covid-compliant) for adult consumers, but the traditions of pocket money, piggy banks and saving up for something taught valuable financial lessons to children (not to mention the lost art of delayed gratification).
Amid all the uncertainty this year, some unlikely heroes have emerged as the strong leadership needed from Westminster has been somewhat lacking; it took a centenarian’s fundraising efforts to give the NHS a much-needed cash injection and a 22-year old footballer forced the Government into a food voucher U-turn.
Given this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that among this sudden outbreak of common sense, the most sensible words I’ve seen recently on financial literacy come from a semi-pro footballer-cum-grime MC. His suggestion of using real-life examples rather than hypothetical situations in maths lessons in schools may sound overly simplistic at face value, but it poses a bigger question about whether we are equipping the next generations with the wider world skills they will need when they leave the education system.
Much of our financial naivety stems from the fact we don’t even start to engage with the machinations of how products work until such time as we might need them. Which is somewhat akin to flicking through a language phrasebook on the flight to your holiday and expecting to be fluent by the time you land. But with individuals now auto-enrolled into pensions as soon as they start their first job, wouldn’t it be advantageous to give them a head start on understanding how they work?
Ongoing affordability issues mean mortgages are something that most people won’t have to consider until around a decade after they enter the world of work. But a basic comprehension of how the largest financial commitment you are likely to make in your life works in reality would reduce the risks involved and be mutually beneficial for all parties.
The financial services industry has long been cognisant of the need for better fiscal education in schools and its efforts should not go unnoticed. But it is also incumbent on the Government and educational facilities themselves to embrace this support and implement it in a way that equips our children with knowledge and skills they can harness from the get-go.