Get ready. This post starts with a pretty big bite of the apple:
Our mission is to foster greater income and economic equality by creating the next generation of impact investors — individuals who have the knowledge and skill to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime and are motivated to improve their communities.
Now, let’s unpack this. Impact investors are people who seek a financial and social return. They recognize that capital appreciation is not the sole reason for investing. Thankfully, they’re not alone. The Business Roundtable has redefined the purpose of a corporation to consider the needs of all stakeholders beyond simply maximizing profits.
But impact investors aren’t born: They’re created through a lifetime of personal and professional experience, ideally supported by education. Rather than exploring the deplorable approach that many financial institutions are using to teach financial literacy, this post focuses on what we know about developing high-impact education, and how we’re using these principles to design and implement our training curricula.
FirstRoot’s Approach to Financial Education
High-impact curricula need to be grounded in a set of easily understood principles. Here are some that inform our work and how we leverage them.
Learning based on real-world scenarios creates a more significant impact than fake case studies.
We start by giving students real control over real money. Instead of having students imagine how they might deal with money, our approach creates authentic experiences that engage both the head (“what is a good investment for our school”) and the heart (“How do I feel about this investment? How do others feel about this investment?”).
Teach the right behaviors from the start
We form life skills from attending school and from the behaviors we learn through our experiences with family and friends, and from our surrounding culture. However, life skills are often the most challenging lessons to teach. That’s because the behaviors we’ve been conditioned to believe are correct from our life experiences may not actually be based on the most accurate data or accepted approaches of experts. For example, the family story about the rich uncle who won the lottery runs counter to the ‘boring advice’ of experts who advocate long term investments.
Our approach is grounded in supporting students in learning the best behaviors for making investment choices by creating experiences that support these behaviors. For example, true financial literacy goes far beyond learning how to balance a budget, moving into the life skills needed to consider investments. Participatory budgeting provides both by asking students to explore questions such as “Can we afford this proposal?” (a budget question) and “Is this proposal a good investment for the school? (an investment question).
We know that a foundation for wealth is compounding, starting early, and then seeing the positive impact grow over time. Financial knowledge compounds the same way: the earlier education begins, the better the outcome.
Our approach to financial education — powered by Participatory Budgeting (PB) — is designed for all grade levels
Use a project-based pedagogy
We recognize that the pedagogy we use — how we teach —profoundly impact whether or not we’re creating the desired results. There is a range of approaches to teaching, with active, project-based learning fostering the best results.
PB is a near-perfect example of project-based learning! And the bonus? You can run it in a wide range of formats — from a single classroom project lasting a few days to a more comprehensive, school-wide program lasting several weeks.
Emphasize the 4+1 C’s
Educators around the world have realized that education must emphasize the “Four C’s” of 21st-century skills: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. To this list, we add civics — training in the rights and duties of citizenship.
In short, PB promotes the 4 C’s plus one:
- Creativity: Students design their process and create proposals
- Critical Thinking: Students determine the attributes needed to assess proposals and then use them to decide which proposals are best
- Communication: Students learn how to describe proposals to others
- Collaboration: Students perform all of these tasks together
- Civics: PB in schools promotes civics by encouraging students to focus on what is best for the community
Create skill-appropriate curriculum
Education should be designed to be appropriate for the age and skill of the learner.
There are several financial literacy standards that we use to inform our curriculum; however, we’re most influenced by the Jump$tart standards.
Create multi-disciplinary curriculum
Successful curricula integrate multiple subjects or concepts that resemble the life skills needed to thrive in the modern world.
Our curriculum allows educators to choose the approach most appropriate for their needs. They can focus on discrete aspects of financial literacy, civics, and design thinking, or they can easily integrate one or more of these into a multi-disciplinary curriculum.
Using these principles in your work
We hope you found our review of the principles driving our work helpful. We welcome you to use and leverage these concepts in your work and to share those you’ve found useful.