personal_finance_facts

As I walked into another Bite the Ballot event this week, I was unaware that my personal finance skills were going to be rigorously tested. Even though I had a pleasant surprise, for many Briton’s personal finance is not only a taboo subject, they also can’t do it. With roughly 300 Britons going bust every day, it seems imperative to educate yourself on personal finance and defend your credit from the likes of payday loans. So how should this be done?

Bite the Ballot brought together over 90 young people and seasoned professionals to discuss how best to tackle this issue, the main topic of the evening being: Should financial education be in schools? If so, should it be tailored to individuals?

The debate started with a quiz to see if the audience and panel had an up-to-date view on the financial seen in the UK. I was horrified, as were many next to me to find out that the minimum wage for under-eighteens is now £3.68! Considering that the London living wage is now set at just over £8, which is a shocking £4.32 difference.

Looking at this fact from a realistic protective there is no way you could live on £3.68 per hour. Is someone, aged 17, less of a person than someone of 18? They must be since the minimum wage for someone of 18 is £4.98. While anyone over the age of 21 has a minimum wage of £6.19, almost double that of anyone under the age of 18. Should someone that is only 4 years younger than you be paid half for doing the same job you do?

Once we got our heads around that shocking notion the debate began, but not before a mystery guest from the audience took an extra seat on the panel.  Bite the Ballot’s imagination and creativity has led to some remarkable debates and this is no execution. They have introduced a ‘hot seat’ on the panel, which rotated members of the audience, to give the debate a truly ‘people debate’ feel.

The first on the panel to speak was a Jerome, a business owner and member of Bernardo. He believed that schools should become more down to earth. Teaching mathematics is great; however, you will rarely use that in the real world. If you teach young children about personal finance, you will prepare them for the world and give them a skill they can use.

Sharan, the Educational Director of MyBnk, regaled us with stories and cautionary tales of her university experience. She agrees that financial education is extremely important, especially students that go to university, as they come into contact with huge amounts of money, which one day they have to end up paying back. The Students have to learn how to run their personal finances every day, making sure that the fixed amount will last for a specific period. This, at the moment, rarely happens.

Third on the panel to speak was Lynda, former youth policy advisor for the FSA. Lynda began by testing the audience on their finances, showing all of us that nobody is perfect, especially when it comes to our personal finance. Lynda also began to stress that government needed to also tackle what goes on outside the school, which is indeed important, since school is only one part of a child’s life.

The fourth on the panel was Tracy, from the PFEG (the personal finance education group). Tracy, along with Justin Tomlinson MP, were two of the people responsible for personal financial education becoming part of the national curriculum by 2014. Tracy states ‘that, by 2014, financial education will be in Maths, PCHE and in adult education’.  The funding, she stated, would come from private firms, which have a direct link with personal finance.

Justin MP also goes on to explain, briefly, how the campaign began and how quickly it escalated, with over 100,000 people signing an E-petition and with roughly 300 MPs supporting it, one can see that public opinion was on their side.

After the panel had said their bit, the room was divided into groups in the classic Bite the Ballot style. The debate hit the ground running with many, young and old, agreeing that financial education should be introduced, but disagreeing in how to implement it.

Many ideas and questions were being thrown around, with some of the most prominent questions being; who would educate the teachers? Would this dumb down education further to trivial day to day matters, instead of the grand academic questions that are meant to be studied in school? Would private companies end up having more influence on children if this was to go through?

One group even began to suggest a German style tiered educational system. They suggested that all people are not the same in the way they think and act, as such they should have different educational systems for the different groupings within society.

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Once the group discussions were over, each group was asked by Mike, from Bite the Ballot, to tell the panel what they discussed, with many interesting points being raised. One of which suggested that teachers, themselves, should become more of a team to give students the confidence to believe in their choices and their finances.  Many also stressed that teachers, being one of the professions with the worst credit rating, need to be trained specifically in this new field. Otherwise, many fear it will go down the same route as Citizenship, which has wrongfully become known as a doss subject.

This was strengthened when Bite the Ballot held a vote at the event asking that very question: Do you see Citizenship as a doss subject? The majority that voted yes explained that citizenship is considered as half a GCSE and the teachers do not have specific training for it, hence students are not as motivated to do well in it as in other subjects.

Justin MP, stated that since financial education would be imbedded in other subjects this would not happen: ‘the math curriculum would be factual right or wrong answer financial education, while in PCHE, it will be more subjective.’

Many in the audience also believed that financial education should mainly come from outside the class room: Bankers and accounts for instance. Lynda does point out that the idea behind financial education is that teachers would become the conveners and guide the students, but much of the education would come from outside. Metro Bank, a newly established back from 2012, already does this, encouraging schools to bring their students in to learn about banking.

Despite the above, Ida from Kent, made a valid point that although changing the schooling system maybe have some effect on children, it is the parents that must implement this change and teach children about personal finance. This raised a very important question; should schools be responsible in educating children in basic personal finance, or is that the job of the parents?

Justin MP replied that yes it is a valid point; however, the government can influence children as legally they must stay in school until a certain age. When it comes to adults, it becomes a lot harder for the government, as adults do not have the same contact with the government as children do.

As the event came to a close, many interesting ideas and questions had boiled to the surface. Lynda says it best when stating that ‘we all start in different financial levels, so teachers need to be educated in personal finance and the education given to children must be personal and tailored to them.’

Whatever your opinion, the financial crisis in the west has made it clear that everyone should be careful when spending money, especially money that you then have to pay back. We are chained and inundated with legal and financial jargon now more than in any other time in recent human history. As such I think it is imperative we all educate and prepare ourselves in dealing with the financial juggle that awaits us in the real world.

Do YOU, the reader, believe children should know about Personal Finance?

If yes, how should it be taught?

BY: Matteo Bergamini