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High schools urged to reform financial literacy approach

New research has found Australian schools’ current approach to financial literacy is failing teenage girls and that it should be expanded outside of maths and business.

Findings on why young women have lower levels of financial literacy than young men have come from Griffith University, in a study commissioned by Suncorp Bank and charity Financial Basics Foundation.

The resulting report has given six recommendations for high schools to improve their financial education, including that financial literacy should be expanded outside of maths and business.

Suncorp and Financial Basics Foundation have both called for financial literacy to be taught as a stand-alone course across all secondary schools.

Report authors Laura de Zwaan and Tracey West noted that while women tend to outperform men in high school, outnumber them in university and are more highly qualified in the workplace, they tend to have lower literacy levels.


While some students were aware of financial concepts such as interest, inflation, investing, insurance and superannuation, most had little or no knowledge and/or understanding of how they translated to personal finance.

Girls generally had less confidence than boys and they were found to take a more collective approach to finances, where they consider others while making financial decisions.

Despite the introduction of content to develop financial literacy across the curriculums for economics and business, and mathematics, the research showed many students, particularly girls, found the maths-based approach was a barrier to learning the skills.

“For many students, maths is not the most effective curriculum area for learning about personal finance,” the authors concluded.

“There is evidence that curriculum structure and delivery in Mathematics often results in students fixating on formulas and calculations, without understanding the underlying concepts. Many students are disengaged (resulting from a range of factors) with maths.”

The suggested approach is to instead focus on storytelling, with the context being critical for understanding financial concepts.

“It is important to match the learning activities with what the students are experiencing, and to use real life scenarios,” the authors said.

The six recommendations from the report are:

Financial literacy education should be elevated within high schools, ideally within a stand-alone program.

The delivery of financial literacy education in maths needs to be improved.

The delivery of financial literacy education should be expanded to subjects outside of maths and business.

A range of assessment methods should be offered to students to enable them to show what they have learnt.

Learning activities should be aligned with the general level of financial experience of the students.

Students need more exposure to effective financial strategies, in particular moderation of spending for saving.

Financial Basics Foundation chief executive Katrina Samios added there is “evidence that knowledge and awareness of effective financial strategies is actually going backwards”.

“This is a significant concern and the Financial Literacy of Young Australians report should be a wakeup call for governments and educators,” Ms Samios said.

“We want all young Australians to have a secure financial future and a clear understanding of the strategies they can employ to achieve that.”

Suncorp CEO Clive van Horen commented a stand-alone course on managing personal finances would help financial decision-making, but also aid young people’s financial and mental wellbeing.

“Not enough emphasis is put on this important life skill in schools and more can be done,” he said.

“As a father of three teenagers, I understand some of the challenges kids experience navigating their way through life. More can be done to build their financial wellbeing skills in schools.”

Brokers have been urged to help solve the financial literacy problem. In 2018, the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia (MFAA) partnered with Astute Ability Group and extended the School Entrepreneurs Program to its members, which encouraged brokers to teach school pupils and young adults financial literacy.

The program had been established by asset finance broker Mhairi MacLeod, also the principal and founder of Astute Ability Group.

Rise High Financial Solutions director and broker Marissa Schulze told Mortgage Business sister brand The Adviser that she is concerned with the level of financial literacy in Australia, calling for an increased focus in schools.

A survey from buy now, pay later provider Openpay found three-quarters of Australians did not believe their schooling had taught them enough about finance.

Around half wished they had learned about how the property market worked in school.

[Related: RBNZ lifts interest rates to highest in 22 years]

High schools urged to reform financial literacy approach

Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins is the news editor across Mortgage Business and The Adviser.

Previously, she reported on banking, financial services and wealth management for InvestorDaily and ifa.

You can contact her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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