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An obsession with grades is depriving us of financial education

Education may have been reduced to an inconclusive grade card, but lessons in finance would last far longer, says 16-year-old Annie Lew.


by Annie Lew on Jun 26, 2012 at 12:52

An obsession with grades is depriving us of financial education

So it appears that I, a 16-year-old student about to embark on my A-levels, know very little about money.

This became apparent during a recent trip to the bank when questions first directed at me – such as whether I would prefer a three- or four-year fixed-rate ISA for example – were soon put to my mother instead. Perhaps it was my dumbfounded expression that warned the adviser that my decision might not be a well-informed one.

But this was my money, so surely I should be the one to decide what to do with it? Or rather, surely I should be in a position to be able to decide what to do with it.

Basic tools

Does the government not care that we teenagers are not even being taught what an ISA is before entering the world of student loans and mortgage applications? Why aren’t we being given the basic tools to go about these daunting tasks?

Some argue that maths GCSE is enough, but frankly it’s not. We might learn the difference between simple and compound interest – worth maybe one mark in our exam – but this isn’t a lesson in money management.

Our generation is too focused on gaining grades rather than digging for a deeper understanding of a topic. A GCSE student doesn’t question maths – how can we? When we’ve solved the equation to find ‘X’ there is no time to have a class discussion on why mathematicians have decided that cross multiplying is a valid method.

Over a 13-year-old's head

The plan to incorporate financial education into PSHE (personal, social and health education) may seem like a good idea, but my school stopped including this informal subject in Year 9. And even if I had learned about finance then, what would have I really absorbed, as I would have only been 13 years old!

In fact, even at 16, financial education may not be a good idea. When in the middle of important GCSEs a lesson that has nothing to do with our exams would not be very popular.

As a student I know that learning the entire GCSE syllabus, with only five hours for each of the 10 subjects in a two-week timetable, is tight enough without digressing.

So how can we find the time? Year 10, when stress levels are lower, may be the solution. A lesson every fortnight about finance would be very useful, and may even be enjoyable.

No matter how packed a school schedule is, financial education is vital: we need it to learn how to invest in our own future.  

Easy to be misled

When I was trying to decide on the best way to grow my money the bank employee kept saying ‘I can’t advise you’. If my mother hadn't been there to help me, would I have made a stupid – and probably avoidable mistake – because ‘how to manage your money’ was not an Edexcel GCSE Maths specified topic?

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17 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Declan Wilkes

Jun 26, 2012 at 15:46

Bang on Annie.

I work at a finance and enterprise charity called MyBnk and you've hit the nail on the head.

A bit in maths (which most students drop after their GCSEs) and a bit in an optional part of the curriculum, doesn't cut the mustard.

These are the proposals being put to the curriculum review: here's what we made of 'em

16 isn't that bad a time to learn about personal finance. There's a funny few weeks after exams where everyone’s hanging around doing very little. Opinions, attitudes and behaviours towards money are forming and things are happening; that first job, more pocket money, more independence and that first decision about where to bank.

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Jun 26, 2012 at 16:36

Quite right, I was incapable of balancing a bank account statement until, at 35yrs in a fit of excruciating pain, now 56yrs, I forced myself to set up an excel spreadsheet to do it for me. Even so,the principles involved are still not clear. Not only financial education but also budgeting could help the student loan not disappearing in a shopping spree in the first week.

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Matthew Charles Flinders

Jun 26, 2012 at 16:36

Whoever you spoke to at the bank, should of been able to clearly explain the differences between the ISAs that were offered. You should of been able to either make an informed decision at that point or taken away documentation to mull over the options further, before committing the money.

The reality of implementing finance into a school timetable pre A level is certainly something of debate at the moment - but is it realistic and feasible?

Theres no way the government would e lect it to be a compulsory subject, and i do not think the subject is hefty enough on its own to warrant a full GCSE module. At that level it would either have to be mixed into Maths or Business studies. But if you share a module you'd be limiting the Maths side and the Business Studies side.

Perhaps it could be mixed into a life skills sort of subject that rotates each week, but that would be costly in terms of adminsitration to implement as well as the fact teachers would need to be able to cover rotating weeks/trained for that subject.

I'm all for kids learning finance, i've had to learn it on my own...but perhaps thats the more rewarding way to do it?

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Daye Tucker

Jun 26, 2012 at 17:15

Spot on Annie.

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Mark Biddlecombe

Jun 26, 2012 at 17:17

Given the state of the public finances, and the looming prospect of the pension and sving time bomb exploding in our faces, I would argue that real, practical hands on financial education has never been more important to the future wellbeing of the country.

Like health education, prevention through timely education should be seen as an investment, rather than a cost

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Jun 26, 2012 at 17:19

I think we're talking some basic training , mostly learning finance speak eg annuity, draw down, APR, gilts , etc . If they can fit sex education into the timetable I cant see why they shouldn't learn something about finance too .

Talking of GCSE's Matthew .....its not.'should OF been able'......its 'should HAVE been able' - just had to point it out in case you were sitting your exams !

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Steve P

Jun 26, 2012 at 17:26

"It's difficult to get good, unbiased financial advice"

You have already - at the age of 16 - realised something that many take a lifetime to realise.

"How are we supposed to know if the advice our friends and family are giving us is right or wrong?"

Another excellent observation. Add financial advisors to the list too. Advice from financial advisors also needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, because they could well advise you to invest in funds that pay them healthy commission, rather than provide you with good returns. Unfortunately the same problem (is the advice right or wrong?) would also apply to teachers if the subject were taught at school.

None of the above-mentioned people can necessarily be relied upon to be good investors and/or people who provide good advice.

Ultimately I agree with Matthew Charles Flinders (in the post above) - you have to take the initiative by yourself and find things out for yourself. Here's a good place to start:

One last piece of advice re:ISAs, from the esteemed Warren Buffet - most investors will do best by being in a low cost index (tracker) fund.

Index funds are probably the best place to start for novice investors. Only invest money in the stock market if you don't mind seeing the value fluctuate and won't need it soon though...

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Declan Wilkes

Jun 26, 2012 at 17:45

Agree with most of the comments here.

There's not much wiggle room in the timetable but we make it work.

At MyBnk we map finance lessons into an individual schools curriculum and provide microfinance schemes to give young people a place to action their learning.

Independent, FSA approved and expanding.

There's two things here really, does this young person have enough information (education) to make an informed choice. No. Can she go somewhere to get financial advice? Yes

MyBnk also deliver the Money Advice Service!

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Mark Cleminson

Jun 26, 2012 at 18:18

Well it sure wont be the school teachers who could teach the children about finance. They are as financially illiterate as any other public sector group.

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Jun 26, 2012 at 18:28

A good starting point on how to make money and keep it read the Millionaire Next Door. Most 16 year olds will not like what they read and will end up broke for the rest of their lives but those who do follow it will be the ones left laughing. So Annie Lew read the book, it won't take long and you will be streets ahead of what 99.9% of the population know and practice.

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Dennis .

Jun 26, 2012 at 18:45

I agree that grade chasing has screwed things up big time. I find it amazing how little kids seem to know these days. If it's not in the exam it's not discussed. I know it's not the kids, fault , they can only jump the hurdles placed before them but I did O level maths in the 60's and it was taken as given that you understood the difference between simple and compound interest as well as euclidian geometry theorems, geometric and arithmetic series etc and I went to a secondary modern school!

We had teachers that had time to discuss things so we all understood them, I even used to stay behind after school aged 16 to do unsupervised chemistry experiments and lock up the lab when finished - tell that to the health and safety guys.

One final point I went on to the local grammar school to do A levels and was the only person in my 6th form year to get three As (maths, physics, chemistry) - no grade inflation then.

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Jun 26, 2012 at 20:33

I must admit that I learned very little at school that was any use to me whatsoever in later life. I ended up in a job which required a high level of numeracy but nothing I was taught after primary school level was relevant. I can't say that the English lessons were much use either. Given that my employer had to produce a Plain English guide for staff, I was clearly not alone. My employer also had to train all staff about the world of finance as well. What was my school education for? If someone says to have a wider appreciation of art/ world/ life etc etc I will clonk them on the head as first and foremost I needed to be able to earn a living which 13 years of school did nothing to help me with. Hence I suggest all school children should start with reading the Millionaire Next Door and then clamour for knowledge that will help them earn a living. What is taught in schools is crap and always has been.

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Jeremy Bosk

Jun 26, 2012 at 20:55

So we should remove a few subjects from the curriculum for each individual year and add a year to compulsory schooling. We should insist on knowing and implementing the difference between education, training and memorising facts. The present system destroys curiosity and creativity without which progress is impossible.

We should encourage education before the others because learning how to learn is a permanent advantage. Skills become obsolete and facts change or become less relevant. We should make school interesting not a dreary prison. Good teachers stimulate pupils' curiosity and encourage the development of fact based reasoning as well as taste and judgement in aesthetics. Memorising and regurgitating standard answers is the antithesis of education.

Good teachers and politicians who establish an education system based on evidence and reasoning are essential. At present education policy changes on the whim of this week's minister informed by nostalgia and half-baked zealotry.

Those currently misleading us are even worse than their predecessors.

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Forestbhoy via mobile

Jun 26, 2012 at 22:32

Have said this for years, but just imagine if this and other generations,really got to know how and who really got us into this mess ..... Can't see any party bringing it in as what have they to gain, but an awful lot to loose. Turkeys voting for Christmas springs to mind ....

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Matthew Charles Flinders

Jun 27, 2012 at 09:11

Thanks for that patronising comment Seymour. I graduated from University two years ago. A pedantic nature to correct grammar on a forum is always welcome, cheers.

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Dennis .

Jun 27, 2012 at 09:50

Remember that "education is what remains when what has been learned has been forgotten".

We can all recognise an educated person immediately, it's hard to define, it's probably about they way you speak, argue, debate etc. I know a successfull businessman with lots of money and he admits that he isn't "educated" and wishes he was.

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Trevor Lee

Jun 27, 2012 at 14:43

I see nothing has changed in the education ideals, we still turn out young adults who have absolutely no idea of the life skills needed to make their way in the world

40 years ago it was just the same...... all the gear and no idea!!!!!

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