It can be astonishing to discover what some people don’t know. Until reading our report on financial literacy today, who would have thought it possible for someone in this country to reach the last year of school not knowing how to operate a bank account?

Manurewa High School’s head of commerce has students aged 16 and 17 who have never opened an account, do not know the difference between a credit card and eftpos card and do not know how a term deposit works, let alone insurance or bank loans.

Manurewa High appears not unusual. The Commission for Financial Capability has surveyed 1000 recent or imminent school leavers and found 35 per cent learned “almost nothing” about money at school.

The astonishing thing is that they have obviously learned almost nothing about money at home either. Either they come from households that live entirely on cash or the teenagers are somehow oblivious to their parents dealing with bank accounts, eftpos, credit cards, interest rates on term deposits or any of the ordinary instruments of personal and household finance.

And the dismaying thing is that while the teaching of financial literacy in secondary schools would be a very good thing, financial literacy ought to mean much more than the basic level that as many as 35 per cent of pupils appear to need.

The new Government proposes to introduce a “school leavers’ toolkit” which would ensure nobody goes into the workforce without a driving licence and some workplace skills that include the management of their finances. It cannot happen soon enough.

But it may not be enough. Financial capability is already in the secondary curriculum but not as a subject in its own right, let alone a compulsory one at any level. There are workbooks available for a unit standard on financial capability and many other resources being offered to schools by banks, accounting firms and agencies such as the Young Enterprise Trust.

But although 73 per cent of school students have told the Commission for Financial Capability they want to learn more about money, Manurewa High’s head of commerce found only five of 490 students in year 9 took up a course she offered on “secrets of money”.

Labour’s proposed “toolkit” includes civics, a study of how government works. If all school leavers are to become engaged voters and participants in democracy, they need at least an elementary knowledge of finance and economics. It sounds like they leave school with a lot to learn.

Source: NZ Herald

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