The Country Soaring Past America in Teaching Kids About Money

British lawmakers voted early this year to make personal finance a mandatory part of going to school. Now they have set the agenda for fall 2014, which the U.S. is watching

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The U.K. is gearing up for mandatory financial education classes next year in grades K-12, cementing its place among the leaders of the global movement to teach kids about money. The Department of Education just published its National Curriculum, which for the first time dictates that schools introduce financial concepts in the first year and build on those lessons through high school graduation.

The document will get scrutiny in the U.S., which is also a leader in the movement to boost individuals’ financial I.Q., starting in kindergarten. There is no federal mandate in America, however, and likely never will be. Education is the province of each state. Still, we have a broad push at the state level that the federal government is supporting through research and by providing learning materials.

British lawmakers voted early this year to make financial education mandatory beginning with the fall 2014 semester. But until now the teaching approach hasn’t been clear. The document, published Sept. 11, includes a “citizenship” class, which will do the personal finance heavy lifting in the high school years. It also spells out financial concepts to be taught in math at every level.

The U.K. approach favors incorporating financial education into existing classes, as opposed to ordering a stand-alone personal finance course. Without providing much detail, the document says money lessons will also be built into English and science classes.

The citizenship class is designed “to ensure that all pupils are equipped with the skills to think critically and debate political questions, to enable them to manage their money on a day-to-day basis, and plan for future financial needs.” Key money concepts that will be taught in high school citizenship classes include:

  • The functions and uses of money
  • The importance and practice of budgeting
  • Managing risk
  • Income and expenses
  • Credit and debt
  • Insurance and other financial products and services
  • Savings and pensions
  • How public money is raised and spent

Beginning in the primary grades, math courses will introduce key concepts such as:

  • Money as a unit of measurement
  • How to recognize the value of different denominations of coins and notes
  • Solving simple problems in a practical context involving addition and subtraction of money
  • Estimate, compare and calculate different measures, including money
  • Multiply decimals by whole numbers in practical contexts, such as measures and money
  • Develop use of formal mathematical knowledge to interpret and solve problems, including in financial mathematics
  • Solve problems involving percentage change, including percentage increase, decrease and original value problems and simple interest in financial mathematics

A lot of the financial education program remains to be written. For example, all the document says about English is that it will include lessons on financial vocabulary to be taught in spelling, where young students will learn the meaning of words such as money, finance, commercial and coin.

Broadly speaking, the U.K. idea of what kids should know about money and at what age closely tracks that in the U.S. Last year, the Treasury Department unveiled the website, which lays out 20 concepts to be learned between ages three and 21. To support teachers trying to impart such knowledge, the government also developed

Much of the financial education push in the U.S. is built around these websites and through organizations like the Council for Economic Education and Jumpstart Coalition, which have crafted national standards for teaching personal finance. Yet without a federal mandate for such coursework, the effort has been disjointed. We’re making progress through the common core initiative. But for now K-12 financial education in the U.S. for all students remains an elusive goal.