SATs, financial education and why it's time for us all to get off our 'Rs'

Justin Urquhart Stewart
16 May 2018

They say good things come in threes. But the three ‘Rs’ gets you just three words and only one of which actually begins with the letter R!

It’s a huge irony that the ‘Three Rs’, right at the very heart of our educational system, are based on a spelling mistake. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Hardly comforting. So for all those primary kids being rammed with SATs exams this week – fear not. You can probably abbreviate much better than the ‘system’ can. LOL.

But while the education system is arguably much tougher than it was in my day (mercifully, I never needed to know what a ‘subordinating conjunction’ is), now all three of the so called ‘R’s’ have come under pressure as the reliance of technology lulls all of us, young or old, into slackness of brain. After all, who needs to read and write when you can just listen and watch, and who needs numeracy when you have a calculator?

But if you want to really know your way around a calculator, you still need to know your maths. Of all of the three R’s it seems to be the ‘A’ – Arithmetic, which has the greatest tendency to bring many of us out in hives. 

I’ve long argued that personal finance education and maths are the perfect combination. I’m yet to meet a child who isn’t interested in money, but I’ve met many who aren’t interested in maths. Putting the two together can be a game changer because it makes something so seemingly irrelevant completely relevant. The penny can drop, quite literally.

At the dawn of civilisation, personal finance and maths did go hand in hand. From the valley of the Yangtze and the Mesopotamian green crescent of the Tigris and the Euphrates, as early writing developed, along with it came the counting rods of the early abacus and the Chinese suanpan.

The very foundation of those basic economies needed measurement for not just size and distance, but value, trade and, of course, wealth.

But as a nation we have not yet taught the necessary personal financial issues that we will all need to know, and this will only get worse. Whatever your political views, the state will never be either a reliable or generous benefactor; it will be down to us.

And it’s not just in schools where we need to be doing more, but in the workplace, and universities too. Only last week, my jaw nearly dropped on to the seat when my taxi driver confessed to being a full-time firefighter, as well as a taxi driver two days a week. It certainly put my long days and early starts into perspective. “Credit card debts?” I asked. “Yes, and a huge mortgage on top!” he replied.

What is the true cost of a lack of financial education? The answer is clear – hardship. So like my taxi driver is already doing, it is now time for us all to get off our ‘Rs’ and apply some elbow grease and add up the cost of our futures.

By Justin Urquhart Stewart, co-founder and head of corporate development at Seven Investment Management (7IM) .