I am currently working on a research project funded by Financial Literacy Australia that is investigating the use of financial literacy education as a tool to promote primary students’ engagement with mathematics in low socio-economic areas. While working on the project, it has struck me that often we have a simplistic view of what financial literacy for young children means, and how influential it can be in their future lives.
There are many definitions of financial literacy, ranging from “basic money management: budgeting, saving, investing and insuring” (Hogarth, 2002) to definitions that incorporate a more critical perspective, such as that proposed by the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT): “enabling people to make informed decisions at the personal level…allowing citizens to properly analyse and make judgements about broader issues such as government policy, the influence of the media and activities of the finance industry” (AAMT, 2010, p.2). In the context of primary schools, financial literacy is much more complex than just teaching children to recognise currency, to add and subtract money amounts, or to be able to estimate the costs of items. It is about learning how to apply a range of mathematical skills and knowledge to consumer related situations in an informed, analytical and critical manner. These skills should be learned in the classroom, and just as importantly, at home.
So why teach mathematics through financial literacy? We know there is an ongoing problem around children disengaging from mathematics, and this often occurs from an early age. One of the biggest causes of students’ disengagement with mathematics is the fact that they fail to see the relevance of mathematics or its applications to real life situations. Added to this, there is concern relating to young people from low socio-economic areas in particular, as presented in a recent report by Thomson (2014):
- In Australia, 75 per cent of socioeconomically disadvantaged students hold a bank account compared with 89 per cent of advantaged students.
- “More students from disadvantaged backgrounds than students from an advantaged background responded that they were influenced by advertising in magazines, flyers and newspapers, and by the need to ‘fit in’ when making decisions about spending money” (p. viii).
Teaching mathematics via financial literacy makes sense. By using real-life contexts that involve financial literacy that is age appropriate and interesting to students, we can teach a range of mathematics and numeracy skills. Students are more likely to remember and understand because they have applied them to something they are interested in and something that is relevant to their present lives.
The following is some advice for teachers and parents in relation to promoting mathematics in the context of financial literacy education.
In their Position Paper on Consumer and Financial Literacy in Schools (2012) the AAMT note that mathematics teachers need to address the cross-curricular learning in financial literacy though the mathematics curriculum and through “broader concepts and understandings” (p.3) of other key learning areas and in real life situations, with relevant contemporary resources. Such contemporary resources are available from the MoneySmart website (https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/teaching/teaching-resources/teaching-resources-for-primary-schools) at no cost. These resources are an excellent way to begin teaching financial literacy concepts with some units of work specifically designed around mathematics, however, if we want to ensure teaching and learning is truly contextual with the aim of engaging students with mathematics, these units can and should be adjusted to suit the specific needs of the students in your classroom.
Alongside the MoneySmart resources, consider using resources that are familiar to students’ everyday lives. These could include items that are in the news media, shopping catalogues, television commercials etc. Keep watch for interesting photographs or misleading advertisements such as the one above. They are great for instigating mathematical discussions. There is also a range of iPad apps that could be used alongside mathematics and financial literacy explorations, including budgeting apps and supermarket apps. If you like using picture books to introduce and teach concepts, the following website has an extensive list of books relating to financial literacy: http://www.moneyandstuff.info/books.htm
Many young children don’t understand where money comes from and it’s important that they begin to develop some understanding of how our economy works, even from a young age (many children believe that money comes out of a hole in a wall). In my research there appears to be a pattern emerging where children whose parents talk to them about money develop an earlier understanding of its importance and are provided with more opportunities to deal with money and make decisions about money. If you have young children, it’s a great time to start their financial literacy and mathematics education. Take opportunities when you are out shopping to either include your child in discussions and decisions where appropriate, or explain financial decisions that are made on their behalf. Talk about the mathematics involved in financial decision-making and where possible, encourage children to make their own financial decisions with pocket money, banking, etc. If you feel you need to improve your own financial literacy first, MoneySmart have fantastic resources for adults too (https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/).
The benefits of engaging children with mathematics through financial literacy are clear. By highlighting the relevance of mathematics to children’s current and future lives through real-life learning contexts relating to money we can better position young children for academic success and success in relation to their future economic lives.
View an interview about financial literacy on Weekend Sunrise on Sunday 26th April
Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (2012) Position paper on Consumer and Financial Literacy in Schools. retrieved January 2015 from www.aamt.edu.au
Hogarth, J.M. (2002). Financial literacy and family and consumer sciences. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 94, 15-28.
Thomson, Sue. (2014). Financing the future: Australian students’ results in the PISA 2012 Financial Literacy assessment. Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research.