This week delegates representing governments and financial education stakeholders from around the globe will be spending two days in Toronto talking about financial literacy at a conference called Partnering to Turn Financial Literacy into Action. As I flip through the agenda for this by-invitation-only event, there is one workshop in particular that catches my eye. It's called "Financial Education in Schools: How do we bring financial education programs into the classroom?"
This workshop--coupled with some recent financial literacy presentations that I have made to primary school teachers and parent groups and some interviews with financial educators such as Gail Vaz-Oxlade--has got me thinking about who is ultimately responsible for making sure that every child is financially literate by high-school graduation.
Whose job is it?
Is it Mom and Dad's? Most parents I've talked to believe that personal finance should be taught in school. On the other hand, in a poll of 40 primary school teachers that I did a few weeks ago, half said that parents are ultimately responsible for their children's financial education. But what if mom and dad aren't financially literate? What then? Can teachers fit more curriculum into existing instructional hours? Should they?
Should it be our ministries of education? When I asked financial education self-help guru, Gail Vaz-Oxlade this question, she said that parents should be teaching this stuff to their children because "not everything should be taught in school." She used the example of how schools teach kids about the food pyramid and how that knowledge is meaningless and out of context for them because they (the kids) don't make the food choices at home. Mom and Dad do.
Money choices are the same, Vaz-Oxlade said. Teaching kids about money when they have none of their own is be pointless. Nonetheless, Manitoba and Ontario are introducing personal finance this fall, K-12 in Manitoba and grades 4-12 in Ontario.
Are we expecting our kids to be self-taught? Some of the most interesting and successful people that I have talked to about financial literacy are self-taught. Everything that I know about money I have taught myself. We never talked about money at home. I didn't learn anything about it in school. As a result I've made a lot of mistakes on my way to financial stability, but at least I've made it. Is this the best option? I don't think so, which is why I spend so much time talking to my daughter about money, and making sure that she has her own money to practice with.
Should entrepreneurs step up and develop lucrative products that will do the job? There are a few small companies in Canada that are currently developing financial education products and services. (I know. I've been approached by a few). But the question remains, who should those products be aimed at? Can you make any money developing financial education products for schools? Or would it be better to create products that will help parents teach their kids about money? Which is the better investment?
Responsibility Leads to Action
This is a funny place that were are in right now. It reminds me of the whole sex-ed dilemma. Whose responsibility is it to teach kids about sex these days anyway? The family? The school? There is an uncanny parallel between sex and money in education. What is it about teaching kids the "facts of life" that sets parents' and educators' teeth on edge and makes them pass the buck back and forth?
It will be interesting to see where the discussions lead at the "Turn Financial Literacy into Action" conference next week. Seriously, if we don't agree on who is ultimately responsible, it will be impossible to point the finger at anyone and say, "Okay, Dude, open up your wallet and spend some money on financial education." Without responsibility, there is not likely to be any action and I'm not sure the global economy can afford that.
Copyright 2011. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
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