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Once is Not Enough—Together, Yes We Can

POSTED: April 23, 2014 | BY: Annamarie Cerreta | TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

April 23By Helen Roberts, Clinical Professor in Economics at UIC and Director, UIC Center for Economic Education.

Practice Makes Perfect

How can our children learn the necessary skills and knowledge to be financially literate? Like reading and driving and other important life skills, one try, one course, one time is not enough to be proficient.

To learn to drive a car, students must learn the rules of the road. To drive their financial lives, students need to learn the rules of good financial life, such the importance of saving, budgeting, and protecting their money. Just as reading about driving is not enough, students need to practice as they go.

Plan the Journey

What does it mean for schools to take financial literacy seriously? In the Chicago Public Schools, the several departments (such as math, social studies, counseling, literacy) and outside partners are cooperatively developing a financial literacy curriculum guide with links to resources for teachers for every grade from Kindergarten through High School. The guide will be the road map. Children do not become literate in reading in one short course. They also need well-designed and age-appropriate curriculum, including repeated practice, to become literate about the financial economy. They need to start at an early age and to deepen their understanding of the financial world as they grow and develop. Parents are crucial at every step—living examples and frequent opportunities to practice making good financial decision, reinforcing good financial decisions like saving for desired toys and activities.

A financial literacy curriculum guide recognizes that even young children are constructing their world and are taking action in it. Kindergartners trade with each other, make choices, and perform many other economic activities. They love to see how understanding the rules and identifying their costs (including opportunity costs) can improve their choices.  As children grow, their choices and horizons broaden. As they progress through the grades they learn about choices and opportunities for families, communities and countries, about earning income, saving, credit, investing, and protecting and insuring.  Financial literacy is so much more than just budgeting and banking!  Students build understanding through the grade levels. The guide will give teachers lessons that both teach how the world works and age-appropriate just-in-time financial applications for grade. Teachers can choose from a menu of activities and lessons to fit their students’ interests and needs.

Teachers as a group often do not feel prepared to teach financial literacy topics, let alone economics topics as well. Along with the course design and financial literacy curriculum guide, many entities are working together to provide. Professional development for teachers new to economics and financial literacy. Both outside partners and teachers previously trained and experienced with implementing these lessons with Chicago Public Schools children help to prepare teachers new to the capstone course and the curriculum guide.

What does ‘financially literate’ really mean?

The culmination is a 12th-grade capstone financial literacy course, which this semester is being taught for the 3rd time. In this course, students learn how the economic way of thinking and making decisions work, supply, demand, and government interact—how the economics of the world they are about to enter works. They study career choice and preparation, getting jobs, and entrepreneurship. It is exciting to hear their plans for the future! They learn how to protect and invest their savings, when to borrow and when not, and what questions to ask at each stage in their lives. Finally, they learn about consumer protection and insurance. The world is risky, so which risks should I insure against?  Again, not worksheets but real problems and practical answers. How to properly fill out a job application, and where to be suspicious when a fast-talking market guru puts on the hard sell.

Signs of progress

The early results from Chicago are encouraging. The financial literacy curriculum guide is nearing completion. The capstone course has been taught several semesters. Teachers and students like the course—it is relevant and fun. Students’ confidence in their decision making, career choices, and risk management rises after the course. Teachers report that students request the Econoland Game: Please, let’s play it again! On learning that by NOT saving, they give up interest they could have earned, they choose to save. We look forward to better financial choices in the future!

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