Is financial literacy a vital skill that schools should be prioritizing? Is it prioritized? Is it taught properly and with enough real-world connections to matter?
Growing up in a small school, with only 21 class mates in my grade, we didn’t have many teachers in our school. We had two teachers per subject for math, science, social studies, and english. Yes, we did have electives that were offered by these teachers but never did they focus on financial literacy. We did have a financial math class (but you could not receive a NYS Advanced Regents degree if you took it) and we used to have a business class for many years before the cuts came. So, I am curious. Do schools have teachers who focus primarily on financial literacy? And how do these teachers teach?
In the school district that I work at we do have a business teacher and family and consumer science. These teachers do teach financial literacy skills. However, do students really walk out of these classes with an understanding of how to manage money and how to reach financial goals? Now let me be clear, this is not a knock on the teachers who teach these courses. They do a great job managing a very large curriculum and trying to teach a million different topics of equal importance. My gripe is with the system.
Shouldn’t financial literacy be one of the most important skills a school teaches? Shouldn’t our educational system prioritize the acquisition of the necessary skills and knowledge to be sound consumers and smart investors? I think the answer is obvious, but that the system is stacked so that doing this is not beneficial to those who benefit from poor consumer habits and the mountains of debt we acquire in our lives. For the individual and the family, financial literacy is one of the most important skills one can acquire. You will engage with money and monetary goals weekly, if not daily!
So what should schools be doing? This is the hard part. My own financial skills came from independent study and curiosity inspired by the struggles of people around me. My thoughts are that schools, at the very least, should offer electives, workshops or extracurriculars that allow students the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of money management and planning for financial goals. These opportunities should help instill principles of earning, saving and investing money responsibly and intelligently. If schools have the resources and time, mandatory courses that can inspire students to explore the financial world should start in the 7th grade. Have students go through a simulation of running a family, running a business, investing in the stock market, and creating/marketing a product or service. In reality, I know that these things are done in schools, they are done in my district, but we have to stop and find the disconnect that is keeping these strategies from being effective in producing smart consumers.