A Proper Education: Why Don't We Teach Our Kids About Managing Finances?

by Dexter Findley

I was trawling an educational forum a few nights ago, when one poster's comment struck me right between the eyes. It was something to the effect that schools - although they do a good job of teaching us times tables, the insides of plants and so on - teach us hardly anything about the "real world". So while we all know that Henry VIII had six wives, and that Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, most of us leave school knowing nothing about paying tax, balancing books or the finer (or, ahem, grimier) points of finances: things like what AER means, or how one's tax bracket is calculated.

This is quite worrying, given that "real life", for most people, is nothing but the perpetual juggling of these concepts. How do we expect young adults to be responsible with money if we tell them nothing about it? Sure, some would deem this matter to be under parental jurisdiction; but what if - as is often the case - the parents themselves have only a rudimentary understanding?

Let's face it: our society (and increasingly our culture) is centred around money. Rent, tax, bills, incomes and cashflows, conspicuous consumption and mortgage variables are part of workaday existence, as ingrained and necessary as Maths and English. Knowledge and understanding of these things can make the difference between a rung on the housing ladder or a life of debt. And with unscrupulous companies circling the uninitiated like sharks round a group of seals - with their pay-day loans, small prints, sub-primes, opaque credit ratings - having a bit of financial savvy has never been more important.

We don't just neglect to teach our children about how to manage their financial lives: we don't tell them about the defining systems and structures of our society. Concepts like the profit motive, supply/demand, inflation, trade, credit, the necessity for tax etc. We purport to live in a democracy, yet the titular 'people' are sent out into their adult lives with no official explanation of the society they're meant to be helping 'ruling'.

So what's to be done? Just to be clear, I'm not advocating a soulless re-write of the curriculum, with double Economics followed by Business Studies after lunch - rather, the creation of something akin to PSHE: a subject designed to educate young adults in the workings of everyday life. A 'Citizenship' subject taken between the ages of 14 and 16 - or something similar - should do the trick.