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Financial Literacy and Economic Security

03/28/2009
One key lesson we are now living...Without financial literacy classes the road to financial security is too risky.

One key lesson we are now living...Without financial literacy classes the road to financial security is too risky.

Here’s an opportunity for the Obama Administration to employ a long-term fix to one of the root causes of our current economic quagmire.  The Secretary of Education should seriously explore the idea that federal educational funding for high schools include a requirement that all graduating students successfully complete a financial literacy course.

Of course, this is not a new idea. Teaching financial literacy on a wide-spread basis has been a subject of discussion for decades. But except in some limited cases, the most advanced economy in the world (or so we thought) failed to actually train young adults about how to balance check accounts, understand the difference between stocks and bonds and navigate the world of credit…including mortgages.  In no small measure, the current mega recession is an unintended consequence of a massive educational failure that turned a blind eye to teaching young Americans about the economy.

While this concept is not new, the opportunity to actually do something about it is fresh as Washington re-thinks its eduction policy. Perhaps the most important thing we can do for future generations is to start educating our young and theirs about how our economy works, on a macro and micro level, starting with personal finance.

When I graduated high school, I could not balance a check book. My eyes glazed over at the sight of a stock table in the local newspaper. I took it on blind faith that whatever that small print was when I signed my first mortgage obligation would be “okay.”  It’s taken a long time to catch up. Today, students who will ultimately be asked to pay down the unthinkable budget deficit with their blood, sweat and tears will need to understand on-line banking and complicated money programs to get into housing and establish and preserve that intangible commodity called credit.  Some, as entrepreneurs and business owners, will need to comprehend what it means to establish a budget and navigate simple but essential accounting and tax concepts. This is not something to be put off.  Our high schools should assist in this challenge.

While there are resources on the internet that address this deep pocket issue, we need an established educational curriculum across all fifty states that has the discipline of actually engaging students in financial education. This is as important as secondary school math classes and should not be voluntary.

No, not everyone who attends such a course will get it.  But for those that will, the payoff for them and the national economy will be limitless. Smarter financial consumers will equal a more secure economy. Think of where we might be right now if financial literacy was a main staple of our educational system for the past 50 years. You can count on it…we’d be a lot better off.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 03/31/2009 5:36 pm

    British Columbia is the only Canadian jurisdiction that has mandatory financial life skills training in its high school curriculum. The BC Ministry of Education introduced a new course called Planning 120 in 2004/05 which is mandatory for all grade 10 students in the province.

    The BC Securities Commission developed a resource for teachers who teach the course and has provided free face-to-face and webinar training for BC students and full time teachers. It has also done a lot of research to determine its effectiveness — both with students, teachers and high school graduates.

    We have learned a great deal about how to teach the basic concepts of finances to youth and believe we have a lot to share with others who want to introduce the subject into high schools. The key one was teachers need to be taught how to teach it because very few teachers had any kind of financial education themselves.

    Last year, the BC Securities Commission licensed its program to the Canadian federal government so it is now available on-line in English and French. Here are some websites to check out: http://www.investright.org/
    http://www.bcsc.bc.ca/Planning10/
    themoneybelt.gc.ca

  2. 04/01/2009 12:17 pm

    British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has mandatory financial life skills training in its high schools. Five years ago the government introduced a new program which included 20-hour Finances component.

    The BC Securities Commission, which lobbied for such a course, then produced a very comprehensive and creative resource for teachers and then set out to market it to teachers. What it learned was that the biggest barrier to teaching financial literacy in the schools was the teachers themselves.

    The City has won five national and international awards.

    The Commission has spent the past five years learning how best to teach teachers and get the best results from students. It has researched its effectiveness in the short and longer term. While our program isn’t perfect by any means, it is an important first step and other jurisidctions could learn from the Commission’s experience. The Federal government was so impressed with the BC program that it asked the BCSC to license it to them. We did and now there is an on-line program called The City as well available in English and French.

    Check out these websites:http://www.bcsc.bc.ca/Planning10/
    http://www.investright.org/
    http://www.themoneybelt.gc.ca/home-accueil-eng.asp

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