Girls slipping behind when it comes to financial literacy

Girls slipping behind when it comes to financial literacy

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An independent financial literacy charity is calling for an overhaul of the delivery of financial literacy in schools, with girls slipping through the cracks of Australia’s education system.

The Financial Basics Foundation has identified not only that literacy rates at schools are declining, but that girls are disproportionately affected, often scoring lower in financial literacy than young boys.

While financial literacy content is included in the Australian curriculum there is no consistent delivery of how it is taught across the education system. Financial literacy education at high school is often delivered within mathematics, where girls tend to underperform compared to their male counterparts.

Dr Laura de Zwaan of Griffith Business School, co-author of the 2022 Financial Literacy of Young Australians report, said “a lot of the students we’ve talked to say maths is their least favourite subject so it’s not a great place to house it if people are already disliking that particular subject”.

“One of the big things that came out of my research and the young people I’ve talked to is they want more of it. They’re aware that they don’t know these things,” she said.

Financial Basics Foundation CEO Katrina Samios emphasized the critical importance of financial literacy as the gateway to essential life skills.

She advocates 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. 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,” she said.

Ms Samios underscored the findings from both domestic and international research, which suggest 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. 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,” she said.

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, like English and Science.

“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 said.

During April, which is Financial Literacy Month, the Financial Basics Foundation is aiming to highlight the gender gap in financial literacy in Australia and develop a framework for schools, parents, students and partner organisations to deliver a holistic approach to solving the problem.