the words "financial education" and a megaphone

3 steps to implementing a 21st-century financial education curriculum

Although financial literacy is only a small part of a student’s life, it is an absolutely crucial one

Effective and accessible financial education has historically been absent in U.S. schools. Outdated instructional practices and a lack of standards have made it difficult for teachers to easily incorporate this crucial topic in the classroom.

According to a 2016 study by LendEDU, more than half of 18- to 24-year-olds wish they’d taken a personal finance course in high school. Unfortunately, not every state has a requirement that students take some form of a financial education course prior to graduating.

As the business education teacher at Niles North High School (NNHS) in Illinois, I’m passionate about ensuring that every child has access to an equitable and effective financial education curriculum. NNHS is one of the most diverse high schools in Illinois, with students who come from almost every corner of the globe and speak more than 70 different languages. I feel lucky that my state requires every student to complete a consumer education course, and I know the importance of providing a course that is up-to-date and applicable to the real world.

After 20 years of teaching, I’ve identified three key elements to an equitable, realistic financial education program into the classroom. Students need to know certain facts about how our financial system works and they need to have healthy and productive attitudes about money and finance, but most of all they need to learn how to make smart financial decisions. Incorporating the following three elements will help students become smart and critical consumers and achieve financial wellbeing. All students, regardless of background, can benefit from a high-quality financial education.

3 elements to a high-quality financial education program

Having a pedagogically sound approach

Students need more than just information to develop financial know-how. In previous years, I focused solely on topics out of a textbook. Now, I’ve implemented finEDge, a new style of financial education curriculum created at UChicago. This curriculum uses modules that introduce key financial topics, walk through the decision-making processes related to these topics, and create productive attitudes about finance.

We were attracted to how the program focuses on providing an opportunity for every student to gain financial literacy skills, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background. Reflection is an integral part of the curriculum; students are given the opportunity to participate in simulations and scenarios in which they need to think critically and build financial decision-making skills.

Many financial curricula focus exclusively on the model of teachers providing content knowledge rather than allowing students to acquire and construct their own way of working through complex, everyday situations. I’ve learned that by first considering pedagogy, I’ve been able to transform my financial courses from “old school” to something more flexible and powerful.

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