The impact of the Covid 19 pandemic has, of course, been devastating for many reasons but it has also started conversations about personal finance that isn’t often heard. We don’t like to talk too much about money in Britain do we?
It would be fair to say that unless you work in the financial world you can be forgiven for not having paid much attention to the nuances of how workers are paid their income, but the Government’s furlough packages have definitely changed that.
Mental Health and Financial Education
The sudden drop in income for many during lockdown has also turned the lights more fully onto the links between mental wellbeing and your finances. If you have been paying attention to mental health issues you knew this already of course but I would argue finance is a link often overlooked as the answers to improving the nation’s mental wellbeing are sought in more obvious arenas.
It is a worrying state of affairs however where those that have financial worries are 4.1 times more likely to have anxiety and suffer from panic attacks and 4.6 times more likely to have depression. This is damaging to the economy too with 70% of the UK’s workforce spending a fifth of their time at work worrying about their finances. This costs the economy around £120 billion per year.
This has sparked a wave of calls for financial education, and in some cases, businesses of all sizes and structures suddenly appear willing to provide it. But what actually is it, who should be teaching it and why do we at Red Star Education believe it should be impartial.
What is it?
Financial education has, believe it or not, been on the high school curriculum (only as part of citizenship and maths) in England since September 2014. However, since it is not mandatory for academies and free schools to deliver, don’t expect a raft of resources to be directed to it any time soon.
But what exactly is financial education?
It is a planned programme of study to equip learners with the skills, knowledge and understanding to be able to control their spending and savings habits, to understand their personal attitude to financial risks and to be aware of their own behaviour and emotions concerning money and the financial decisions that they make.
It is important to be able to clearly differentiate between this and promoting the benefits of financial planning or financial products, which are many and should be promoted but in their own right and not labelled as ‘education’.
Who should teach financial education?
Having established that financial education is planned study, it follows therefore that the practitioner delivering the instruction should be suitably qualified and experienced not just in the subject area, finance, but also as an educator. It is not enough to understand finance, to work in a bank or be a qualified financial adviser. Have you ever tried to talk about anything serious to a group of 20 children or young people?
Education is about the learning experience; it must engage, inspire and connect with the learners otherwise your message is lost. The ability to do this is a skill, something many parents who have been trying home schooling during lockdown will attest to.
It is important that the experience of studying money is enjoyable otherwise if the subject comes across as dull that will be defining belief the learner attaches to financial education, and you have lost their interest for life.
Why do we believe it has to be impartial?
To be an educator in the truest sense of the word, the teacher must not have an agenda or a conflict of interest. To be able to impart knowledge and fact without preconception, to answer questions honestly and without bias and to be trusted by one’s students has to be at the heart of any teaching practice. Is it possible then to teach a subject with any other agenda – particularly the selling of a service or product?
To illustrate this point, we can use the hypothetical example of a cigarette manufacturer who offers lessons on the impact of smoking cigarettes to one’s health. Are these lessons going to be fair, fact based and impartial? Absolutely not. Why? Because the cigarette manufacturer has a vested interest in selling cigarettes and in keeping people smoking. His whole business is built around this.
All supporters of the advancement of financial teaching in a learning environment advocate for starting young; we have even taught lessons to Brownies ages 5 and 6 years old but would it be right that children and young people are subjected to advertising or worse a sales pitch when what they think they are getting is a lesson? We think not.
Jumping on the bandwagon
So it does seem as if financial education is one of the hot new trends; I have seen a company promoting ‘financial education’ as a product to sell if you undertake a bit of training and start your own business “teaching” the public financial education and recruiting others to join you. Think of any network marketing product with an ‘amazing business opportunity’ to boot and you get the point.
The danger of this type of approach is that is reduces the credibility of financial education right at the time when the Department for Education and OFSTED need to take it more seriously, find solutions and stop relying on Martin Lewis to fund the writing, production and distribution of text books on the subject (well done Martin Lewis you legend!).
So yes financial education is absolutely vital, and we need more of it in the UK, but unless we teach it with the same sincerity as other core subjects, we risk turning it into another mis selling scandal.