Frontlines: Educating children about money

Sending financial experts into school classrooms should involve more than instruction in form-filling, writes Helen Bonnick

I read recently that 55 per cent of parents think they should share responsibility for financial education with schools, though the article said nothing about the other 45 per cent. Are they all for schools doing the teaching? Are they a bit squeamish about money? Or did they think it was nothing to do with schools at all? I remember a long and fraught discussion with a friend who said citizenship education should include lessons on filling out tax forms and understanding credit cards. I’m beginning to think she was right.

It may seem bizarre that, at a time when the Labour government is pushing forward with its determination to halve and eventually eradicate child poverty, it is also watching over the creation of a generation of adults with unprecedented debts and inadequate pensions. Obviously the blame must lie with parents and schools as we fail in our duty to teach prudence and proper money management to the next generation from infancy.

The rules of the game have changed over the past 30 years. It is a different world from the one in which we learned to budget. For some sections of the population, at least, changes to the funding of higher education have brought about a more casual attitude to debt. This is coupled with readily available credit and a lifestyle influenced by advertising and consumerism. When you are young and playing hard it is difficult to envisage life 10 years hence. No wonder people do not make provision for their retirement.

The official response is to send advisers into workplaces and schools; to give lessons and seminars; to put people back on track; to blame individuals. This is indeed a pressing matter, with far reaching consequences, which needs dealing with urgently. But I would suggest that it is not a matter of teaching maths and form-filling to individuals. What we need is a philosophical and political debate about how we arrived here and whether this is a place we want to be. This sounds far more attractive as an educational device. You never know – it might actually engage young people in the discussion. Heaven forbid, it might even stir a long-forgotten interest in politics itself.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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