21 Aug 2023

Financial literacy policy has principals wary of curriculum overload

3:31 pm on 21 August 2023
Exam with uniform school student doing educational test with stress in classroom.16:9 style

Photo: 123RF

Labour is adamant its push for compulsory financial literacy classes in schools will not simply load more work onto already stressed teachers - and one provider of such classes is backing the move.

The policy was announced on Sunday by Labour leader Chris Hipkins and education spokesperson Jan Tinetti, who is also the current minister.

"Evidence tells us the current approach means too many students leave school without the financial skills they need," Hipkins said.

He said financial literacy was taught in some schools - often using resources provided by third parties, such as MoneyTime and Sorted in Schools - but not all.

Labour's policy would make it a mandatory part of the curriculum, and standardise what students were taught.

Principals Federation president Leanne Otene said based on her conversations with principals, "there would be more schools [teaching financial literacy already] than schools not doing it".

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Leanne Otene Photo: Supplied

The ministry would need to be careful not to simply add more to the mandatory curriculum on top of what was already there, Otene said.

"How do we put that into this curriculum document without adding more?... we seem to be in an additive mode, adding more and more to an already very full curriculum.

"And so it's about the country saying, and about our young people and our parents and caregivers saying, 'These are the things that are important for our young people to learn'.

"Let's look at our maths and our social studies curriculum and let's make sure that we're teaching what is appropriate and fit-for-purpose for our learners today."

National's Education spokesperson Erica Stanford told Morning Report her party backed the idea, but questioned the timing.

"It feels very kneejerk - they haven't thought through how to do all of this because, as you very well know, they've just refreshed the curriculum and financial literacy is not there, and they're talking about delivering it through the curriculum.

"So, are they going to refresh the refreshed curriculum? It doesn't feel like they've been thinking about this for a very long time."

Stanford also had concerns New Zealand children would not be able to learn financial literacy if they were unable to understand the maths behind it.

Erica Stanford at Silverstream School

Erica Stanford Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"That's exactly why we came out with our teaching the basics brilliantly policy first about making sure there's an hour of maths [every day], and making sure that we're assessing it along the way and making sure there's more professional development.

"I do think if you are very careful with a financial literacy curriculum woven into the maths curriculum, you can do this really well - but it is going to require experts outside of the ministry to get this right all the way through school."

Tinetti told Morning Report financial literacy was already a part of the curriculum review, it just had not yet been finalised.

"While we were looking at big-vision goals around financial literacy, it became very clear over the course of this time and talking to teachers, but also talking to business and other people in the community, that we have to make it a little bit more mandatory," Tinetti said.

Working closely with third party providers would ensure courses did not add to teachers' workloads, she said.

MoneyTime, a course aimed at kids aged 10 to 14, was already in hundreds of schools. Chief executive Neil Edmond said the course followed Ministry of Education guidelines set down a couple of years ago, and was designed "to take the pressure off teachers".

"Teachers are really pressed for time, they have a lot of competing issues. And what we did with MoneyTime was we made it self-directed or self-taught by students. So teachers don't have to do any training to teach the programme. They don't have to do any prep, they can just unlock the modules and the programme teaches the children what they need to know...

"There are some other programmes out there that still do require teacher involvement, and I suspect that they're useful and they're good programmes, but we've found that teachers do really appreciate having some of the pressure taken off them by having the programme do the teaching for them."

He was yet to hear from the government about how a mandatory scheme would utilise the private sector, but suspected it would not be much different to how it was already.

"I'd be surprised if there was a tendering process. I think that, generally speaking, it works pretty well at the moment. Teachers… know what's available via the Ministry of Education or just through their own research, and then they just choose whatever programme they think is gonna best suit their needs."

He said it was "fantastic news" that every school would be required to teach financial literacy.

"Financial literacy is a life skill that every single person utilises through their life, and it has such a major impact on their life outcomes and the choices that they have. To me, it's as important as health and sexual education and mental health. It's one of those things that affects every single person."

Flipping houses 101

Another concern was exactly which aspects of financial literacy were worth teaching.

"A funny story - I was at one of the schools in my electorate last week at a primary school and they were doing just that - but all they've done is buy property," Stanford said.

While usually of benefit to the individual investor, New Zealand's heavy investment in property once led high-profile economist Bernard Hickey to describe the economy as a "housing market with bits tacked on", and has been blamed for driving prices to unaffordable levels and contributing to widening inequality.

Asked if kids would be taught to flip houses, Tinetti said "investment is something that young people need to know about… I would be really happy for them to know investing, full stop".

"It is really important that our young people know the basics around investing. Saving and investing is a really important part and many young people now don't know those skills around that.

"We don't know they have the competencies around that because they haven't been taught that, and it's really important that they know that."

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