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Teaching financial literacy (and other practical things)

April 26, 2010

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I am on a bit of a “education” slant for now.  Not sure how long it will last, but I think it is important to pay attention to, as a society.  Here’s today’s rant.

Why don’t we as a society put more money into building practical skills for the 21st century?  And not just the technology things or critical thinking (as if that didn’t matter last century!).   Off the top of my head, 3 things I’d like to see are: financial literacy, project management and communication.  Here’s why…

I realized last year that there were some eerie parallels between the 11 year old asking if she could borrow her allowance and pay me back for some item and the credit meltdown.  It’s not that I am a credit junkie – I got my first Retirement savings plan at age 20, pay off credit cards every month and at the age of 40 am mortgage-free – so thought if anyone, MY kid would be responsible about money.  But still, did she walk around with $25 on her at all times?  No (and I wouldn’t let her if she thought she should).  It occurred to me that she, and her peers, need a more comprehensive education on their money.   I’m sure most people would think this is a parental responsbility, but I’m not sure why.

If I was in charge, all kids would learn financial literacy around these things:

  • Save: Introduce guidelines about paying yourself first, how much to save, how interest works, and living within your means (the cost of debt and credit).  Helping kids learn how to save is a critical component of this program and creating tools that help them track their savings will enhance the education. 
  • Spend: Teaching kids to spend wisely by planning purchases, breaking down payments into manageable contributions, and understanding impulse purchases.  Helping kids chart their purchases, teach them how to shop around, knowing the difference between “need” and “want” and understanding the environmental impact of their consumerism are all aspects of spending that could create healthier perspectives on spending. 
  • Share: introduce philanthropy through a group project/donation, as it would really teach kids the power of community and I believe it would help them reach a more significant target and make a bigger impact. 

Then my 8 year old tells me that they are working on “handwriting” in class.  I remember handwriting in Grade 3 and the hours that we spent getting the loops and height just right.  However, my handwriting today is virtually illegible.  Has it hampered my career or personal growth?  Nope.  Why are we still teaching handwriting and not valuable skills like financial literacy?  Or project management?  Kids are taught how to consume all sorts of facts, but can’t actually define what needs to be done first, how long something should take, what resources they need to complete their work, etc.  I don’t think this is just my kids or just my schools or just my country.  In fact, I meet all sorts of grown-ups who lack practical skills.   Or communication skills – beyond reading/writing?  Like how to deal with conflict or reading non-verbal cues.  The whole point of group education is socialization as far as I’m concerned. 

I’d definitely lose handwriting as a piece of curriculum.  And physical education would be far less about learning the rules of team sports. 

If you were in charge of education, what would be in?  What would be out?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Helen permalink
    April 28, 2010 3:05 pm

    Great post, Holly, and timely too! Did you know that the federal government announced a taskforce on financial literacy training and is now doing a national consultation process:
    Financial literacy would definitely be “in” for me. When I think back to when the notion of recycling was new… all that I learned in elementary school stuck with me and I’m a religious recycler!

  2. hollymacdonald permalink*
    April 28, 2010 4:51 pm

    Hi Helen – thanks for the heads up, I’ll check out the link and see how I can add to the national conversation. Perhaps I will be able to check world domination off my list!

    Recycling was a bit before my time, but my mom was an early adopter on that one, so I’m religious too. Plus, where I live we pay for garbage disposal by the bag ($4), so we compost and recycle whatever we can.


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