Op-ed: Teaching young Australians about money in and out of schools

by Dr Phil Lambert PSM

Interest in the capabilities young people need for the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA[1]) world we have created for them is currently high across the globe.

As countries look to reform curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment they are prioritising the fundamental capabilities young people need to navigate life and work.

There are always competing demands for what gets taught in schools. Claims of an overcrowded curriculum date back a century. Strong arguments and solid justifications are needed to privilege what is taught and what can or should be jettisoned.

Financial capability is recognised widely as a clear priority for teaching and learning in Australia

Financial capability[2] is the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and behaviours needed to make sound financial decisions, based on personal circumstances, to improve financial wellbeing. Financial wellbeing is part of a successful, healthy and productive life.

Building financial capability is particularly important given the rapid changes that continue to take place in how we communicate, transact and purchase services and products.

Children and young people have access to money in various forms with the responsibilities that come with this.

They need the capability to manage money and the associated risks. They need the knowledge and skills to access and use services and products as informed, confident and critical consumers.

We have a clear responsibility to ensure that our youngest Australians are well equipped to thrive, not just survive.

So, how well are our students performing in this area?

Australia collects and analyses student performance data through international comparative assessments such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Financial Literacy PISA assessments[3].

The most recent PISA results released in 2017 (from the 2015 Financial Literacy assessment), revealed that Australian students performed significantly above the OECD average. Australia was placed fifth out of the fifteen countries and economies that participated.

On the surface that sounds positive. However, analysis of the 2015 data[4] provide some concerning findings:

  • our proportion of low performers increased significantly between the 2012 and the 2015 PISA, with a higher proportion of males to females in this grouping;
  • the mean financial literacy score for Australian Indigenous students was significantly lower than that for non-Indigenous Australian students and the OECD average;
  • students from Australia’s metropolitan schools scored significantly higher than their peers from rural and remote schools; and
  • the difference between the performance of Australia’s socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged students was higher than the OECD average difference for these groupings.

Clearly a lot still needs to be done.

What we have done so far to build financial capability

One of the key priorities of the National Financial Capability Strategy 2018 is to educate the current generation of young people on financial capability through the Australian education system. This means giving teachers the resources and support they need to effectively teach financial capability.

To this end, a great deal has already been achieved.

Financial Capability in the Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum includes content specifically aimed at developing students’ financial capability. It provides schools with a rich source of content for teaching and learning about financial and consumer literacy. The learning areas of mathematics, humanities and social sciences are “natural homes” for this content.

There are also opportunities to build financial capability in other learning areas including English and languages, science, health and physical education and technologies.

An impressive resource, Consumer and financial literacy curriculum connections, illustrates the connections in content across the curriculum dealing with consumer knowledge and financial capability. This resource was the result of a valuable collaboration between the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Resources and services to develop students’ financial capability

Over sixty percent of schools in Australia have engaged in ASIC’s MoneySmart teaching program[5] with the support of valuable partnerships formed with state and territory education authorities. ASIC’s MoneySmart Teaching also partnered with the Australian Principals Associations to find ways school principals at both primary and secondary level can more easily commit to increase the financial capability of their teachers and students.

These partnerships resulted in over 24,000 teachers[6] completing MoneySmart Teaching’s professional learning to increase their confidence and capability to teach financial literacy.

ASIC’s MoneySmart teaching classroom resources for students from Foundation to Year 12 are mapped to all eight learning areas[7] of the Australian Curriculum (Version 8.3).

A number of other resources and programs have been developed by other institutions and groups, including commercial and not-for-profit, in response to the recognised need to improve students’ financial capabilities.

What still needs to be done for universal access to quality teaching and learning in financial capability for young Australian?

To achieve this ambitious goal, leadership is required throughout the education eco-system: in schools (from middle executive and principals) and out of schools (from system advisers, managers and senior executives). It is only through whole-of-school and whole-of-system commitment and effort from leaders that we will firmly place and maintain financial capability as fundamental learning for all young Australians.

How can you help?

As a teacher you can use the curriculum as a rich source of content with many real-life and engaging contexts to equip students with the consumer knowledge and financial capability they need. You can choose from the extensive professional learning courses and ready-to-use classroom resources to enhance your own understanding and competency in these areas.

As a principal you can lead by example and make building financial capability a priority at your school. You can promote the teaching and learning resources that are readily available and incorporate financial literacy into your school plans and initiatives.

As a school system leader you can engage with the government, commercial and not-for-profit agencies who are ready, willing and able to support the schooling sector.

As a parent you can do a great deal at home to support what your children learn at school, see ASIC’s MoneySmart Teaching kids about money.

We have achieved a great deal to date through the provision of curriculum content and quality resources and services. However, we are still far short of achieving our goal for universal access to quality teaching and learning in financial capability for all Australian students.

What is needed is a strong commitment from all of us (both in and out of schools) to achieve this ambitious yet essential goal. Our younger Australians deserve nothing less.

Dr Phil Lambert PSM is President of the Australian College of Educators, curriculum expert to the OECD’s Education 2030 initiative, former General Manager of the Australian Curriculum, and a member of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board

VUCA is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity referred to by Bennett and Lemoine (2014) and Berinato, 2014) [1]

Financial capability is also referred to as financial literacy [2]

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students (OECD: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/) [3]

Thompson and De Bortoli (2017) [4]

Independent evaluation of ASIC's MoneySmart Teaching Program', EY Sweeney, 2017, p23. http://download.asic.gov.au/media/4563536/rep554-published-4-december-2017.pdf [5]

Independent evaluation of ASIC's MoneySmart Teaching Program', EY Sweeney, 2017, p23. http://download.asic.gov.au/media/4563536/rep554-published-4-december-2017.pdf [6]

Curriculum content in the Australian Curriculum is primarily organised under the following eight learning areas: the arts, English, health and physical education, humanities and social sciences, languages, mathematics, science, and technologies. [7]

Empowering Australians to be confident with money
Financial Wellbeing Research Highlights