The holes in our schools' finance curriculum

19 August 2015
As a 16-year-old who's just finished her GCSEs, it's fair to say I have little to no financial awareness. Students of my age are being faced with our first fiscal problem: we're granted independence with money, yet we have no idea how to use it. When my handling of money extends to collecting pennies in a jar, it's clear that our school curriculum is lacking.
These problems are especially apparent when I observe those friends of mine who earn money. One, who works at an ice cream store near Tufnell Park, London, is paid in cash that barely lasts the next week. She's soon to be let go as they are no longer employing people part time, meaning, with no money put aside, the only thing she has to show for her work is a few more pairs of jeans. Another earns roughly £100 per month by reposting pictures on Tumblr, where he has almost 100,000 followers. His wardrobe consists almost entirely of American Apparel and he's always happy to pick up the bill if you're short. Not surprisingly, he's broke for three weeks out of four. Teenagers will always find ways of earning money. But my school isn't teaching us how to manage it. We learn how to calculate AER without knowing what it is. We learn about percentages and interest rates in a vacuum, without ever applying them to real life earning and saving. The problem with learning about finance within GCSE maths is that many of us won't continue the subject or do economics A-Level so we won't learn the context of what we've learnt. So no matter how well we do in our exam, useful knowledge gets left behind along with Pythagoras's theorem and quadratics. PSHE stands for Personal, Social, Health and Economic education. Despite sitting through a lesson every fortnight for five years, I've yet to encounter any personal finance training at all. I want to know what a mortgage is, how and where to get a savings account, whether to care about pensions. Incorporating these topics into PSHE slots or even giving them their own short lesson would isolate them from other subjects, giving finance the importance and time that it deserves. Instruction on how to save on entertainment, clothing and food – for instance, on the benefits of student discount cards – could cure our overspending habits, while preparing us for post-university life. In the days when pocket money seems a bit outdated, understanding how to spend, save and earn will equip us for those rainy days in the future.