PwC is offering free online courses that might help students and teachers learn more about how money works
A primary school student in Chorley, England, receives a financial management lesson. Could more education about money reduce poverty and inequality? |
Image source: theguardian.com
The efforts of US universities to educate the population with free online courses has inspired private businesses to do the same – and in the process, improve financial literacy among the nation’s students and teachers.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s biggest auditing firms, announced Monday that it would boost its three-year-old $160m Earn Your Future financial literacy program with an additional $30m to digitalize its core classes so that anyone with a computer can access them for free.
“We really felt this has to help everyone,” said Shannon Schuyler, a principal and corporate responsibility leader at PwC and president of the PwC Charitable Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm. “Knowledge should be everyone’s to access.”
Financial literacy is not only key to the nation’s economic health, but also an important tool in the fight against inequality and poverty. Christine Legarde of the International Monetary Fund said in an address last year that financial inclusion can be a “powerful agent for strong and inclusive growth” for the more than 2.5 billion people in the world currently lacking access to basic financial services. Companies like PwC, Capital One, Discover Financial and Mastercard are now working to help Americans improve their financial skills, which could ultimately boost their bottom lines.
PwC, which already offers some basic lessons online, plans to make 22 of its 43 modules available online in September. New courses will have video and will “combine hard teaching and gaming”, Schuyler said. Games engage children and allow them to act out real life scenarios, which can help provide context, she said. Online course levels, aimed at kindergarteners through 12th graders, include lessons like “Creditworthiness” and “Saving matters” for students in grades 3 to 5, and “Building wealth and consumer fraud” for teenagers in grades 9 through 12.
The need for more financial literacy is great. According to a recent study by the Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development, American teenagers achieved mediocre scores in financial literacy (pdf) compared to other countries, ranking between eight and 12 out of the 18 nations tested. Worse, only 14% of American adults answered five out of five questions correctly on a 2012 financial literacy quiz. Only 17 states require high school students to take a personal finance course currently, and only six demand that students be tested on financial aptitude.
“Research proves that financial literacy helps people make better choices, yet only a relatively small number of children are exposed to financial education in school,” said Paul Golden, a spokesman for the National Endowment of Financial Education, a non-profit that aims to educate Americans about money matters. “We have a societal responsibility to send our youth into the world with the tools to be financially capable, and globally competitive, as adults.”
Part of the problem lies with teachers’ lack of confidence in the subject, experts say.
“Even if a financial literacy course program were implemented in high schools today, they would still fail for one more reason: although teachers support such programs, they don’t feel they’re prepared to teach it,” said Eduardo Herrera, chief communications officer at investment firm Liberty Capital.
In a recent National Endowment of Financial Education study (pdf), more than 80% of teachers surveyed said they did not feel competent to teach personal finance topics like credit and debt or saving and investing.
While programs like the Earn Your Future initiative could go some way to tackling the issue, some experts say that educators should remain wary of courses offered by big companies, and should guard against children being exploited for economic gains.
“We encourage teachers to carefully review curriculum and materials provided by any business,” said Christine Mason, an expert in educational reform and executive director of the Center for Educational Improvement, a nonprofit that helps leaders use new technology and other innovations to improve teaching at their schools. “Not all curricula and materials are created equal.”
However, programs like the PwC initiative are necessary and provide much-needed hands-on support to teachers, she said. The push for all students to learn algebra led many schools to drop their personal finance courses, which left a gaping need for this type of instruction.
“School-business partnerships are part of the backbone of the most successful schools in the US,” said Mason. “With review and carefully monitored use, such programs can be an important supplement to enhance instruction.”
To help figure out what teaching methods work, PwC has partnered with universities to analyze financial literacy programs in schools and colleges, and it also plans to fund research into how new technology, like iPads, can enhance the teaching of complex financial concepts.
“The good news is that over a third of millennials were offered financial education [in 2014] either in high school or college, or by an employer – higher than any other generation,” said Gerri Walsh, president of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation, which helps equip underserved communities with financial skills.
Perhaps the courses now being offered for free by companies like PwC could help extend the ranks of the financially literate into other generations, too.
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