I chatted to my friend Matt – a teacher near my home town of Wellington, who's making strides with empowering his students with financial knowledge in exciting ways. Matt teaches students aged between 11 and 13 and for the past 5 years has been developing an in-class currency program which he runs throughout the year. This was sparked by his hunch that by giving students the opportunity to earn and trade, that they would learn many other lessons about maths, entrepreneurship and value.
Matt calls his in-class currency lambda – the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet. Students can earn lambda throughout the year through carrying out jobs that need doing in the class and good behaviour. Basically, if it has value, it can earn lamda currency. Students can also lose currency through non-optimal behaviour.
A student banker is nominated for the term (10 weeks) who keeps a tally of lambda earned by each student. At the end of each week, currency is distributed from this tally – physical notes of various denominations which are laminated. "The tactile nature of having physical money is important so that it elevates the currency to more than just numbers on the board. Students can then attach to it as a means of trading," Matt tells me.
At the end of each term, an auction is held – with Matt supplying a few vouchers for local shops and students also bringing along items like chocolate and cakes to be auctioned. Students can spend or earn currency at the auction. "It's a learning opportunity around trade and also helps limit inflation," says Matt. "Students can also pool their money for the auction – though they quickly learn that large cartels lead to heavy division of profits / auction winnings – so there are constantly lessons forming around negotiation and other financial strategies." The end of year auction is particularly spirited as students have learned a lot about wheeling and dealing by then – not to mention, any lamda left over after the auction needs to be handed in.
Students have also previously been allowed to buy, sell and rent desk space via their lambda currency. "Entrepreneurs got in early though the more ruthless amongst them quickly learnt that relationships are a significant aspect of trade. There's lots of life lessons that crop up along the way," shares Matt.
Matt supplements the excitement of trading in lamda with wider discussions on what students and families need and where money fits into that picture. I was also fascinated that he introduces Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to students this young. I expect it's an easier lesson when they can relate it to the learning-by-doing approach he takes with lamda trading.
How might we engage youth with financial literacy in engaging ways? How might we help folks better understand the relationship between money and value? How might a learning-by-doing approach strengthen financial knowledge and literacy?