Students are digital natives and have access to complex and costly choices at their fingertips. Whether via their mobile phone, television remote control, or gaming console, they can accrue significant expenses in the name of entertainment.
They are also subject to new forms of financial risk and deception, including unwanted calls and scam emails and texts. All of these ‘fintech’ (financial technology) developments and issues warrant teaching about.
In what ways are your students financially active, and how is your school preparing them for informed financial participation?
Is finance in the Australian Curriculum?
The short answer is yes.
The Australian Curriculum includes finance within the Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS) –where economics and business is taught – and the Mathematics learning areas. This disciplinary framing reflects the importance of economic knowledge and skills (Amagir et al., 2018; Retzmann & Seeber, 2016) and the strong correlation between mathematical and financial literacies (Thomson et al., 2020).
Additionally, numeracy is a general capability and all teachers are expected to teach students to transfer and use their mathematical knowledge and skills in other disciplines and outside the mathematics classroom. The idea is to help students to recognise the interconnected nature of knowledge as it is drawn upon and applied in the real world.
For example, in Year 9 English, students might learn to read and interpret utilities bills, financial statements, and scam emails as examples of texts. Likewise, in Year 9 History, they might consider data depicting the economic and financial causes of population movements and settlement patterns.
So, why is there a persistent question mark over whether schools are taking already financially active students and shaping them into financially capable school leavers?
Curriculum authorities trust schools to decide how to tailor financial education to meet students’ needs and interests. As we discussed in our previous Teacher article (Sawatzki et al., 2021), the task is not easy. School leaders and teachers inevitably require professional learning and support to imagine and design local programs that might effectively address what students need to know, in dynamically changing financial times.
Schools can start from the bottom up with curriculum area teams reviewing existing programs and how they might be strengthened. Here, passionate teams of teachers drive change at the classroom level.
The other approach is from the top down, where school leaders and teachers prioritise financial education and work together to complete a more holistic curriculum review across disciplines. This approach has worked well in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), for example.
Either way, it is useful to start by thinking about students’ interests and how they’re currently engaging and interacting in the world. Look for the mathematics that can be applied to their financial activities (Sakurai et al., 2021) and ways to support them in making informed financial decisions.
The kids are already a step ahead
You have probably seen students complete invisible, cashless transactions at school. Consider these examples:
Tap ‘n’ go at the school canteen
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, contactless tap ‘n’ go has become even more popular. Fewer cash withdrawals are being made at ATMs and digital wallets are slowly replacing the traditional plastic card, with around one in five Australians having their debit or credit card connected to their smartphone or smartwatch (Finder, 2021). Young secondary students can operate a traditional bank account with card access, provided their parent is a signatory. From the age of 14, parents can agree for their teen to manage their own bank account, including a mobile banking app. There are also Mastercard and Visa universal gift cards and prepaid pocket money cards and apps.
Cruising with their earphones in
Many students will have access to streaming video on demand, plus music and gaming subscription services. When students are listening to music, they’re probably streaming via Spotify – through free, student or family plans – making this service very accessible to young people.
When playing online games
Around 80 per cent of 8- to 17-year-olds have played an online game and more than one-third have made in-game purchases (Office of the eSafety Commissioner, 2018). In-game purchases can involve virtual currency (V-Bucks within the game Fortnite is just one example), requiring exchange rate calculations. Some games feel like gambling or have gambling-like elements that may normalise gambling for young people. The broad social appeal of gaming means young people may have experience saving to buy new or pre-owned consoles and games, giving them insights into how second-hand markets operate to exchange depreciating goods.
Online shopping during COVID
The pandemic pushed online shopping to an all-time high, with students part of this trend by influencing their parents’ purchasing and/or making their own clothing and electronic purchases. Secondary students have likely worked through product research and reviews, judging what constitutes ‘good value’, making price comparisons, checking whether an online store is trustworthy, and transacting securely. They are probably aware of a range of online payment options, including PayPal, debit and credit cards, and ‘buy now pay later’ schemes. They may have experience checking terms and conditions of purchase, including their right to seek a full refund or exchange when a product is not quite right.
The lure of fintech solutions
Formal opportunities to develop deeper understandings how all of these markets, products and services operate are essential.
Beyond the examples above that are immediately relevant to teenagers, young people risk being lured by the apparent ease of fintech solutions they don’t fully understand – such as buy now pay later services and payday lenders that claim to be ‘interest free’. They may also be taken by the idea to invest in cryptocurrency, seeing it as a way to ‘get rich quick’. Or they may be tempted to ‘play’ along in the explosion of online gambling apps and opportunities.
In short, they’re vulnerable to new financial possibilities that, if we’re honest, we’re all working to get our heads around.
What all of the examples we’ve shared have in common is the need to research and think critically about the ins and outs of any product or service you might choose, but also keep track of invisible and fluctuating financial affairs. Mathematics teachers already develop students’ knowledge and skills to do these things, but teaching and learning is not always meaningfully contextualised or connected to real world examples that excite students.
We’ve all heard the catch cry ‘When am I going to use this?’ Emerging financial contexts respond to this question and are typically well-received by teachers and students alike.
Teacher professional learning is the key to catching up
While teachers believe that financial education is important, they don’t tend to see themselves as financial educators. We meet many capable teachers who lack confidence to design and deliver financial education. Or sometimes it is just that teachers have not made the link between the maths they already teach and the financial contexts and applications that can increase engagement and learning.
We have found that professional learning that builds teachers’ knowledge across three related domains – knowledge of the curriculum; knowledge of financial concepts; and knowledge of emerging financial contexts – inspires them to make finance lessons a more regular part of their work with students.
Amagir, A., Groot, W., van den Brink, H. M., & Wilschut, A. (2018). A review of financial-literacy education programs for children and adolescents. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education, 17(1), 56-80. https://doi.org/10.1177/2047173417719555
Finder. (2021). The future of credit cards: Adapting and driving success during challenging times. https://dvh1deh6tagwk.cloudfront.net/finder-au/wp-uploads/2021/03/The-future-of-credit-cards-1.pdf (PDF, 3.21MB)
Office of the eSafety Commissioner. (2018). State of play – youth and online gaming in Australia. https://www.esafety.gov.au/about-us/research/youth-online-gaming-state-of-play
Retzmann, T., & Seeber, G. (2016). Financial education in general education schools: A competence model. In C. Aprea, E. Wuttke, K. Breuer, N. K. Koh, P. Davies, B. Greimel-Fuhrmann & J. S. Lopus (Eds.), International handbook of financial literacy (1st ed., pp. 9). Springer.
Sakurai, J., Sawatzki, C., & Tout, D. (2021, October 7). Real life numeracy contexts – the spark to ignite mathematics learning. Teacher magazine. https://www.teachermagazine.com/au_en/articles/real-life-numeracy-contexts-the-spark-to-ignite-mathematics-learning
Sawatzki, C., Brown, J., & Saffin, P. (2021, November 18). Strengthening your school’s approach to financial education. Teacher magazine. https://www.teachermagazine.com/au_en/articles/strengthening-your-schools-approach-to-financial-education
Thomson, S., De Bortoli, L., Underwood, C., & Schmid, M. (2020). PISA 2018: Financial Literacy in Australia. Australian Council for Educational Research. https://research.acer.edu.au/ozpisa/48
Deakin University’s ‘Economics + Maths = Financial Capability’ research project includes a professional learning series for teachers. Click on the link for more information.
In what ways are your own students financially active? How are they using fintech solutions in their everyday lives? Is this something that you discuss in financial literacy education?
As a school leader, when was the last time you considered the professional learning needs of your teachers in the area of financial literacy education?