Financial Cadavers?

What if your doctor’s only training involved reading books, doing online simulations and writing exams? How much would you trust in their expertise and abilities? What if we learned to drive in a simulator and then were set lose right away on the streets? How many more accidents would there be?

Anyone who learns to drive must learn by driving. Our doctors learn by doing, by working first with cadavers and then real patients, under supervision. It makes sense right? We know with these very differing skills, one that almost anyone could do and one that very few will do in their lifetime, when an activity is high risk we seem to understand the necessity for real experience.

However when it comes to teaching kids, frankly adults too, everyone looks to create simulations, to make up fake situations and play your way through. Well no wonder that doesn’t fully translate to a financially literate society. First, the simulation is often written by people who have no professional or practical experience in finance, or the management of other people’s money. Second, the best practices are often based on ideal scenarios because they are made up. Not a whole lot of making students go fake bankrupt while teaching money in class right?

I spent last Monday and Tuesday at Turning Tides in 21st Century Education. It was quite the event. I talked about the definition of financial literacy, citing the 10 things a student would know if they were financially literate when they graduated from high school. I did two book signings. One of my favorite childhood authors whose books I still read to my son bought my book and got me to sign it. And I was invited to sit in on a brainstorming session with some influential people in the education and finance space to discuss how we could create financially literate students. It was a brilliant experience, and I was honoured to participate.

As I drove home from the last session I was thinking about how we learn other skills that come with very dangerous consequences if we don’t master them, and it struck me. We need real life experiences to enable true literacy and it’s going to take the community, the families, the students and the schools involved if we are to improve the current state of personal financial literacy. So what we really need are financial cadavers. The question is now is, what would that look like? What would we use to create these real-life learning opportunities in a way that the lessons would stick and be applicable for life?

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