Financial Literacy: Obstacles To Achievement, And Why They’re Worth The Trouble
Financial literacy is a difficult enough concept for adults, so it’s only natural that students, who are struggling to learn basic math, science, and English, and who often do not have a positive financial role model at home, find it difficult to master. As the nation’s economy continues to struggle, and the concept of retirement begins to dwindle away, this is a subject that is now more important than ever.
But what exactly is financial literacy, and how may it be taught effectively in schools? To understand the answers to those questions, it helps to know something of the obstacles that teaching financial literacy in school faces. Here are a few:
No Reinforcement At Home
As with most of the educational dilemmas that children face, the inability to learn financial literacy is fostered through a poor choice of role models at home. Without reinforcement at home, every child faces an uphill struggle, regardless of whether that struggle pertains to financial understanding or the common core subject areas. Unfortunately, administrators feeling pressured by Washington for results often place the burden too heavily on teachers as lawmakers worry more about votes than actually helping children attain a true education. With nothing being expected of parents, it becomes very easy for mom and dad to assume that teaching without home reinforcement is somehow a “teacher’s job.” No. Let’s get rid of that thinking right now.
A parent has a child for close to 16 hours per day, Monday through Friday, as well as most every weekend. Teachers may only see some students for three to five hours per week. Who do you think is more capable of teaching anything? And when it comes to a topic like financial literacy, parents are in a much better position to help their children understand the concepts of things like saving money, paying bills, and planning for unforeseen expenses. After all, America is a nation of financial diversity. While the average US salary is a little north of $45,000 annually, the scale is a very broad one where some people earn much more and some much less. Where a child’s parent(s) is/are, will be a much better starting point from which the child can grow his understanding of financial literacy.
Teachers Who Do Not Feel (Or Aren’t) Qualified To Teach The Material
Another obstacle to actually teaching financial literacy in the classroom is that many (or most) teachers don’t feel all that financially literate themselves, according to a recent article in The Fiscal Times.
From my own experience as both a teacher and an observer of other teachers, I’ll admit there is some truth to this one. Education and testing is expensive — not to the ridiculous degree of a career in medicine, but still — and then, teachers are “thanked” with all their hard work by having one of the lowest paying professions around.
Did you know that in some states, there are school districts that have still not cracked the $30,000 per year level for a job where the future of so many is riding on how well one can teach their subject matter? If teachers are made to feel cheap, then that’s how they will start to look at themselves.
They often do not feel qualified to teach this type of material because they don’t feel they have their own bearings on what it means to be fiscally responsible. (That can happen when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.) And for the teachers that do know enough about the material, they still must draw from their own personal experiences, and the personal experience of a teacher is unique in most professions.
They normally get paid once per month. In many states, they have a pension plan, which kicks in after about 28 years. They have some of the worst benefits in the country, especially when it comes to health insurance. It’s just not a place that many kids will end up relating to.
Washington’s Priorities For The Classroom
Yet another problem area for bringing financial literacy to the classroom, this is kind of an extension of how teachers don’t feel qualified. Finance is a topic in and of itself. While teaching the basics would not be as advanced as, say, something you might take in college, there is still a lot of information that a teacher must know to do the topic justice.
But with schools having no direction from Washington — example, No Child Left Behind goes away with nothing to replace it — these institutions are pretty much at the mercy of what governmental higher-ups dictate. They have to adhere to a certain set of standards in each subject matter and bring students to a certain benchmark — which no one has really defined at this point — while learning a topic that is not their strength well enough to teach it.
What schools, or more specifically teachers, need is the freedom to do their job along with some clarity from Washington. Teachers are told to have standards for their children, that the only way for a child to meet expectations is to know what those expectations are; yet they are burdened with demands without really being told what those demands are.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is.
So how can we teach financial literacy more effectively?
By treating it like a subject in and of itself, schools will be able to do a better job of bringing kids up to speed on what financial literacy is, and why it matters in the real world. That means unburdening the existing core teachers and finding a classroom instructor, who is well-versed in the field and capable of helping develop the curriculum. If it continues to be treated as an afterthought at the administrative level, then how can anyone expect students to become proficient. And if they’re not proficient in financial literacy, then they are, quite frankly, not prepared for the real world, nor will they ever be.
What components of financial literacy do you think that a child should know before he advances to college or a trade school — balancing a checkbook, preparing a budget, paying bills, what else?
[Image via AndrewKMiller.com]