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Financial literacy taught as maths doesn’t add up for girls


Girls are slipping through the cracks when it comes to learning about finances, with an independent charity calling for an urgent overhaul of financial learning in Australian schools. 

As April marks Financial Literacy Month, Melbourne-based Financial Basics Foundation is citing multiple research studies from the past five years that support its claims. 

Girls, it says, are slipping through the cracks of Australia’s education system, leaving them less confident in money matters than their male counterparts. 

Financial Basics Foundation CEO Katrina Samios says girls often score lower in financial literacy than young boys, with learning only delivered within mathematics subjects. 

She believes the topic needs to be taught as an essential life skill. 

And, she is advocating for financial literacy to be taught as a standalone subject in schools, stressing that topics such as budgeting, saving and investing are fundamentals for young people’s future success. 

“We know that financial wellbeing is inextricably linked to our individual and social wellbeing,” she says. 

“We also know that schools have a key role to play in the social, emotional and intellectual development and wellbeing of their students.  

“Schools play an integral role in preparing a young person for life in the real world, however research has found that there needs to be a shift in current practices in the way financial literacy is viewed and delivered in schools, particularly as it relates to girls.” 

financial learning

Ms Samios underscores the findings from both domestic and international research, suggesting that when financial literacy is integrated into mathematics, it negatively impacts girls’ confidence and engagement.  

She attributes this decline not to a lack of interest or ability among girls, but rather to the framing of the content within the educational context. 

“The Financial Literacy of Young Australians research investigates why young women have lower levels of financial literacy than men,” she added.  

“We wanted to better understand what was happening in schools that might cause girls to disengage from this skill and if so, what could be done to address the problem to support all young people to develop these essential life skills. 

“The research found that a much higher percentage of girls lacked confidence in their financial literacy knowledge and their approach to managing money in contrast to the boys who were confident in their understanding.” 

To ensure equitable opportunities for all students in making informed financial decisions, the Financial Basics Foundation asserts that financial literacy must be prioritised within the Australian curriculum, akin to subjects like English and Science. 

“As an independent charity with financial wellbeing for all young people as our core charter, we have access to local and global data that supports our advocacy for the integration of financial literacy as a standalone course in the Australian curriculum,” says Ms Samios. 

In Finland financial literacy is taught across several disciplines in school including social studies, maths, home economics, study guidance and even languages. 

“Evidence in the 2018 PISA financial literacy tests placed Finnish children second amongst 30 similar nations for their understanding of financial literacy concepts,” Ms Samios says.

“Another recent study that compared Peru to the less affluent Uruguay, indicated in both cases, women’s financial literacy rates are at the same level as those who are from remote and rural populations, the less educated and low-income people. 

“The study identified that when financial education lessons were taught in school there was a sizable effect on parental financial behaviour within disadvantaged households, such as lower default probability and higher credit scores.  

“The strongest effect was shown to be among the parents of daughters.” 

During Financial Literacy Month, the Financial Basics Foundations aims to highlight the gender gap in financial learning in Australia and develop a framework for schools, parents, students and partner organisations to deliver a holistic approach to solving the problem. 

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