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Q&A: How boosting financial literacy leads to social inclusion

There’s plenty of opportunity in different settings to teach children about financial literacy.

A teacher using laptop as part of a workshop for school children. Image by Astrid Lomholt. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A teacher using laptop as part of a workshop for school children. Image by Astrid Lomholt. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Financial literacy and financial inclusion are core topics within the media. How can the industry can do a better job of bringing financial literacy into our schools? As financial literacy leads to financial inclusion, who can the sector take steps to benefit the overall economy?

To gain an insight, Digital Journal spoke with Rod Griffin, Experian’s Senior Director of Consumer Education and Advocacy, and Laura Levin, the President and Founder of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. The focus is with improving financial literacy in the classroom and beyond.

Digital Journal: Where should financial literacy start?

Laura Levin: We can, and have, spoken endlessly about the importance of financial education programs in our schools, and its value is unquestionable. But we also need to talk more about family finances at home.

Growing up, both of my parents were business owners; there wasn’t a lack of financial literacy. However, there was a cultural stigma about discussing financial topics at the dinner table. The thought was, “kids don’t need to know about the family’s financial situation,” but I think that’s a missed opportunity. Kids are smart, they can grasp some of the more basic concepts fairly easily, and that creates a solid foundation for the rest of their lives. You don’t have to give your kids every detail, but there are teachable moments that can help your kids learn about how finance works.

The good thing is the dinner table conversations can also work in “bottom up.” Our kids might learn something in school and can bring those lessons home to their parents. Open dialogue sparks deep conversation, and that’s when we learn the most.

Rod Griffin: Echoing much of what Laura mentioned, there’s plenty of opportunity in different settings to teach children about financial literacy. Whether at home or at school, it’s important to promote financial literacy at a young age; of course, it needs to be age appropriate. Introducing basic financial concepts, such as budgeting and saving early on, gives children a foundational understanding that helps make sound financial decisions in the future.

Navigating the mainstream financial system can be quite complex but grasping core financial concepts is critical to breaking down the first barrier to financial inclusion and greater financial wellness.

Why isn’t financial literacy considered a priority subject in our schools?

Levin: Most people—teachers and administrators—recognize financial literacy is important; we don’t have to sell them on that idea. The challenge is the sheer volume of competing priorities, combined with limited time and resources. These are the school subjects [math, science, literature, etc.] that many of us have grown up with and are considered the de facto priorities.

To change that mindset, parents and others in our communities need to speak up. We must be our kids’ best advocates and be the voice to push for financial education. The more we ask for financial literacy programs in our schools, the more our school boards will be forced to listen.

Grififin: Beyond competing priorities among core curricula, many detractors of financial literacy programs in schools believe there are far too few qualified teachers. While that’s a valid concern, there’s an unrealistic expectation for our teachers and administrators to be experts in every subject. The financial system can be complex even when you’ve been working in it for years.

As a financial services community, we have a responsibility to train our educators and provide them resources to successfully navigate the financial system, it’s only then that educators can take those learnings and pass financial knowledge to our students.

That’s one of the reasons Experian partnered with Jump$tart to launch the JumpStart National Educator Conference more than a decade ago. Today, it is the premier financial educator conference in the country. Unlike many, it focuses on providing teachers with tools and resources they can take directly back to their classrooms to share with students. At the same time, it provides personal financial knowledge and growth for the teachers, themselves, helping them be more successful personally and more comfortable teaching personal finance topics in the classroom.

What’s the one misconception about financial literacy that stands out?

Levin: Some people think financial literacy will be “dry” or “boring.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Who doesn’t like money? Describing financial literacy as learning about and understanding money, using it wisely, avoiding pitfalls and—kids love this—growing it, makes the topic a little more enticing.

Griffin: There’s a strong misconception that financial literacy can be taught in a one-day seminar. The fact is our financial lives are a journey, and we all enter that journey at different stages. Financial literacy should start at a young age, and we need to continue to expand our knowledge throughout our lives depending on our unique situations.

How do we encourage more companies to become invested in financial literacy?

Levin: It might seem cliché, but driving increased financial literacy is about creating a better financial future for our youth, and by association, their parents and families. Helping them understand how to navigate the mainstream financial system can make them more active participants, but at the same time, financial education, in-and-of-itself, is not a guarantee to unlocking financial wellness.

Knowledge is a critical starting point, but people also need access to resources and tools. Bringing various financial services stakeholders together to help consumers become more financially aware facilitates a more effective ecosystem. After all, as people become more self-sufficient, they become active participants, and ultimately do business with these organizations.

Griffin: Financial inclusion goals are top of mind for most, if not all, of the financial services community. And if financial inclusion is the destination, financial literacy is the gateway. We have a responsibility to uplift our communities, particularly those that are underserved. By investing in our communities and empowering them with financial knowledge, people are better positioned to improve their financial well-being and achieve upward mobility.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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