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Should banks play a role in teaching kids about how to manage money effectively?

Australian schoolchildren are being taught financial literacy through programs often run by big banks. from

The Commonwealth Bank has long been active in the space of financial literacy - that is, educating young people about the importance of managing money effectively.

Just recently it announced an overhaul to its “Start Smart” financial literacy programs, which aim to teach children about money.

The program reportedly includes showing children that “a man is not a plan” by discussing financial inequality and offering positive representations of women managing money.

The catch phrase seems progressive but is loaded with assumptions about women, men, their relationships, and their financial choices. This downplays the economic and social reasons why women’s financial opportunities and experiences tend to differ from men’s.

Pay gap in the workplace

It’s a bold ambition when you consider the broader context. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the highest gender pay gap actually occurs in the financial and insurance services industry, where senior management positions continue to be male dominated and the difference between women’s and men’s earnings is 30.2%.

Further, when comparing Indigenous females to non-Indigenous male workers with median incomes, the reported superannuation gap is 39%.

Such programs, like the one Commonwealth Bank is offering, are based on the assumption that a combination of guest speakers visiting schools and downloadable resources hold the key to improving financial literacy teaching and learning.

Why are banks getting involved?

The federal government has invested millions of dollars and entrusted the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to lead initiatives intended to help children understand finance.

We have a National Consumer and Financial Literacy Framework, which foreshadowed the development of the Australian Curriculum.

We also have consecutive National Financial Literacy Strategies led by ASIC, that are intended to drive improvements in the way financial literacy is taught and learned in schools.

Consumer and financial literacy has an elevated status across the Australian curriculum, signalling opportunities for interdisciplinary approaches, particularly in mathematics and economics and business.

Financial literacy projects are big business for consultancies. And for banks, manoeuvring under the guises of corporate social responsibility serves to position brands favourably.

The ANZ bank, for example, conducts its Survey of Adult Financial Literacy every three years. This is considered the leading measure of adult financial literacy in Australia.

And the National Australia Bank (NAB) recently released research claiming to measure financial resilience - weaving socioeconomics and psychology.

These strategies are important to them since their houses are not in order. The recent parliamentary inquiry confirmed that the big four banks are troubled by bad behaviour and more effective regulation is needed.

How do children learn about money management?

Children tend to learn about money within their homes in different ways – and those teaching around this area need to be sensitively attuned to this learning.

Children become socialised and oriented to consumer, economic and financial issues through a series of conversations, observations, and experiences – consciously and unconsciously.

Even primary-aged students make surprising, insightful comments that show mature understandings about earning, spending, saving, and sharing money. This is particularly true in disadvantaged communities.

How is financial literacy taught?

Research into financial literacy education in schools – how it is taught and learned – is an emerging field, typically characterised by program trials and evaluations.

Program evaluations tell short term success stories – the rubber really hits the road when students need to apply their learning in the real world down the track.

In 2012, the OECD and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) included a Financial Literacy Assessment for 15-year-old students. Australia ranked fifth out of the 18 participating countries and economies.

The findings showed that students in city schools achieved higher scores than students in provincial and remote schools; and non-Indigenous students significantly outperformed their Indigenous counterparts.

Teaching kids about managing money is most effective when classroom tasks are tailored to meet students’ family backgrounds and interests, and occurs at the point of need.

Students enjoy financial problem solving and decision-making experiences that captivate their imagination, challenge them to think, and prepare them for the real world.

Devising financial literacy lessons that create connections between students’ financial literacy learning at home and at school is hard to do without really knowing the local context and students.

Because Australian classrooms are diverse, this stuff rarely comes together “off the shelf”.

Not reaching the most vulnerable communities

The uncomfortable truth is that workshops by so-called finance literacy experts and downloadable teaching and learning resources may not reach and resonate with Australia’s most vulnerable communities.

Planning for financial literacy learning requires an understanding of the school community, interdisciplinary navigation of the Australian Curriculum, and skilful inquiry approaches).

This is what teachers are trained to do, although they need and crave quality professional learning to hone their craft.

This is where funding and support are needed.

The Australian Qualifications Framework and Professional Standards for Teachers mean teachers have never been more scrutinised and accountable.

When it comes to meeting students’ academic, social and emotional needs on any issue, let’s invest in schools and trust teachers to do what they’re qualified to do.

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