Showing posts with label Financial Literacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Financial Literacy. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Need for Integrating Life Skills in Academics

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

From my lived experiences, I can strongly vouch that there is more to school education than studying for unit tests, preparing for board exams, and seeking admission at premier institutes. After all, an individual’s school life is a major phase of their lifetime, isn’t it? While knowledge acquisition is often prioritised, the need to develop a student to face practical situations in one’s life is disregarded. Moreover, the homogeneity that prevails in the faculty’s (and in turn the school’s) manner of assessing students, without acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of each individual, eventually results in a generalized attempt at personality development of these students through extracurricular activities.

This inability of an educational institution to conduct individual assessments as well as counseling sessions of students usually results in the latter’s lack of awareness about their own selves, their interests, their potentials, what they are good at, and so on. Thus, it is undoubtedly imperative to give primacy to the study of Life Skills at school, a subject (or a discipline, rather) that is often administered incorrectly by the school authorities and thus fail to address the final problem - the absence of practicality in education.

What are Life Skills?

The term “Life Skills” can be defined as an academic field which is not exactly academic in nature but does contribute significantly to the process of personality development within a child. Basically, the inclusion of Life Skills in the school curriculum helps students to identify, analyze and resolve practical problems in the real world. In other words, Life Skills often serve as a bridge that facilitates the interdisciplinary association of daily life activities with that of school education.

Speaking from my own experience and by comparing the inter-generational upbringing (that is, how I grew up in the 80's-90’s, and how my son is growing up now), I strongly feel that we naturally imbibed life skills as part of our growing-up process. We played on the streets, we made friends with kids across the socio-economic strata because we didn’t live in homogenized-gated communities; our schools were humbler, transportation to schools was either walking or travelling in public transport and getting scolding (also, occasional beating) from teachers was the norm.

We have robbed today’s school-going generation from these simple pleasures and experiences of life by over-protecting them, limiting their exposure within the posh-gated communities, and today’s school management and teachers will conduct themselves with the do’s and don’ts protocol.

Hence, I am a big proponent of the need for Life Skills as part of formal education, to equip the students to face the real world outside their comfort zone of the school campus and the home environment as well.

Life Skills in the School Curriculum

Life Skills as a field consists of 5 types, each of which focus on a different aspect of an individual’s personality development. These 5 sub-skills are not only beneficial to individuals as students, but also help them immensely in their adulthood, while making career choices as well as taking their own responsibilities as independent individuals. At the end, the very purpose of Life Skills is to provide the requisite practical knowledge to students so that they can take their decisions wisely;

  • Academic and Research Skills

Photo by on Unsplash

Yes, most schools fail to inculcate the required academic and research skills among students to help them study with a holistic approach. Oftentimes, covering lessons becomes tedious for students, which results in rote learning, plagiarism, or cheating. While the choices of favourite subject(s) would influence the study method for each student, it is important that they are able to learn first. In short, a school should help students learn about the moot point or concept of a lesson, accompanied by its context and outcome. Learning without conceptual understanding is best depicted by the hit Bollywood song "All Is Well" from the movie 3 Idiots - "Confusion hi confusion hai, Solution kuch pata nahin/Solution jo mila toh sala, Question kya tha pata nahin" 🙂. Be it History, Physics or Literature, inculcating the basic skills of academic research would assist them in ways unimaginable. Be it through case studies in doctoral programs or investigations conducted for work, people would be able to process, understand and implement the information they receive in the most practical ways possible.

  • Interpersonal Skills

Photo by Tolga Ulkan on Unsplash

Language is key. “But for what?” you may wonder. Language is more than just talking to people. Language helps you articulate your thoughts, express yourself, as well read these words that are scattered across your screen (albeit in an orderly manner). But yes, the first two points I mentioned (talking to people and expressing yourself) are encapsulated within the term “Interpersonal Skills”. To be precise, interpersonal skills help individuals to communicate effectively with other people so that the transfer of information (instructions, ideas, or messages) is conducted successfully. With the increasing reliance on virtual interaction (with the cameras switched off), communication in the real-world scenarios have become more complex. Stammering out of hesitation, lack of foresight in speech, and the inability to articulate one’s thoughts clearly have become some of the major issues of underdeveloped language skills. And yes, these issues arise from both language fluency as well as social skills. Hence, the school authorities must consider organizing inter-school fests, team sports, community services and student-exchange programs so that pupils can get a firsthand experience of social interaction with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

  • Emotional Quotient

Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash

While interpersonal skills are a major part of social skills, the psychological aspect of it entails the next type of Life Skills - that is, developing the student’s Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Quotient (EQ). An individual’s ability to perceive and manage one’s emotions in a said situation has a significant impact on how they react and respond to someone or something. Necessitating Emotional Development through curricular and extracurricular activities would contribute significantly to the wellbeing of an individual. In fact, having a positive degree of Emotional Intelligence would help individuals to tackle practical circumstances with the right reactions and/or responses. Today’s 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) work place is characterised by VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). To succeed in this dynamic environment, high EQ (Emotional Quotient) is a much-needed life skill. This can be facilitated in the school environment by conducting counselling sessions on a regular basis. Besides, the teaching faculty should be mindful of the varying levels of emotional intelligence among students, and that each student should be given proper attention so that they are able to develop emotional resilience within their own selves and thus become prepared to face real-world scenarios with a more mature outlook.

  • Financial Awareness

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

From my lived experiences, I can say most of us are told to “study well, get good grades, so that you can get a good job and earn well”. Today in my mid-forties, I look back with a sarcastic smile and ask, “How come no one taught us what to do with the money we earn from our so-called good jobs?”. Through research and common sense, it is evident due to the lack of financial literacy, the majority of the population do not gain financial freedom despite being in high earning jobs throughout their working life. Handling finances should be a major part of the school curriculum. As a matter of fact, Financial Literacy barely gets any attention at all in the school curriculum since it is often considered unimportant to the student’s overall development. What is more unfortunate is that the Indian school system fails to recognise the need to educate the students regarding the management of personal finances. After all, the ability to measure expenses and earnings of an individual has long-term implications. Whether it is opening a bank account, investing in mutual funds or seeking loans, students should be taught to handle finances from an early age. While the school authorities can consider organizing Financial Literacy sessions in the campus, parents should encourage their children to look for gigs to earn their pocket money. At the same time, both educators and parents should also teach the students to monitor their own expenses and earnings. That way, students will be able to develop habits such as avoiding debt, saving up, and investing to build their financial resources.

  • Career Skills

Photo by Garrhet Sampson on Unsplash

With this, we come to the final type of Life Skills which does have intricate connections with academic accomplishments as well as soft skill training. As students eventually learn about their strengths and weaknesses, develop their interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, as well as educate themselves regarding wealth management at the individual level, it is highly imperative to include Career Skills as a major segment in Secondary and Higher Secondary Education system in India. In fact, Career Guidance and Career Education is part of the formal schooling systems in OECD member countries. By hosting career induction programs in the campus, students can be exposed to the huge array of career options that they can pursue on the basis of their potential and interests. However, the school has a bigger role to play in this case - helping students recognise their own capabilities. As students take part in curricular and cocurricular activities, they will be able to make better decisions with the passage of time, in terms of their own pursuits as well as that of the collective whole. And, in turn, students will also be able to learn about their abilities and limitations. With further assistance from the school and the parents, students will be able to make good choices not only regarding the right career path for themselves, but also the necessary professional knowledge and technical skills that they are acquainted with for the said job position.

The need to deem Life Skills as an indispensable element in academics should be recognised by educators and parents alike. The absence of dialogue among policymakers and educators (along with parents) can be viewed as one of the many reasons why Life Skills is misrepresented among students as just another school subject that is easy to study. By reducing an important academic element into an exam paper eventually culminates into the lack of emotional resilience, the inability to handle finances, tendency to make poor decisions in life, or even being unable to talk to other people fluently. The effect (or effects, in this case) are quite psychological, and thus the repercussions are equally difficult to cope with.

Hence, now more than ever, it is of utmost necessity to look at Life Skills as not only a compulsory feature in the school syllabus but should also be implemented with much precision and planning. Organizing workshops on Financial Literacy, collaborating with other schools to hold student-exchange events, as well as conduct counseling sessions on a regular basis can be viewed as some of the primary steps for educators to prioritize Life Skills at the school-level. At the same time, parents should also endeavor to provide the proper ambience and interact with their wards transparently so that they can become capable of taking their responsibilities and making their decisions as individuals. Most of all, Life Skills is a way for us to manifest the aspirations of a better world with the help of our future - our kids.

Blog Collaborator: Apurba Ganguly (she/her) is an English literature student, pursuing B. Ed (English). She has been eager to understand the intricacies of Memory Studies and Visual Narratives.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Parenting Series (5/5) - Financial Literacy (money management, a life skill approach)

There are many memories from college days, which stays with us for a longtime. Among them, one of my memory is of a classmate who used to maintain an Expense Log Book, keeping a track of his monthly allowances (pocket money). (We were in a residential program, living away from our families).

It has taken me two long decades since then to today, to fully appreciate my classmate's good money management skills & habit (maybe being a parent makes you wiser). Ironically, during our college days, most of us felt his daily ritual of accounting was overtly practical & boring. For us, college days were supposed to be carefree & careless. Running out of our pocket money by middle of the month, phir wohi udhari, len-den :-) (borrowing & lending), eagerly waiting for next month's money transfer & the cycle continued. In fact, by end of the academic year, our entire friend circle would be in debts :-).
In contrast this classmate of mine, would always have money in his bank account. Let me explicitly mention, so that one does not assume him to be a miser or a rich guy. He too enjoyed - watched movies, went to eateries, pooled in for birthday parties, joined us on excursions etc, all well-managed within his reasonable monthly allowances (pocket money). On top of it, he was our go to person (money lender) when we used to run out of cash (he financed us, without any interest %) ;)

After graduation, we all took different paths & we drifted away from our friends....knowing such intimate friendship would never be forged again in our adult - professional life.

In this new phase, with no best buddies around, it becomes a necessity to suddenly switch over from being careless with money to becoming careful & methodical with money management. Unfortunately, for many of us this transformation does not come naturally. For years our orientation towards money management has been random & lacked awareness. It's an uphill task to expect an overnight 180 degree turn in our conduct, from campus life to professional life.
In reality, our money management skills & habit, may take years to reach an optimal level & sadly for many of us, it may never transcend to the highest level of wealth creation.

At a fundamental level, my personal experience touches upon two key aspects:

1. Kind of people (students): 1st kind - Financially Literate (optimal money management skills/habit) & 2nd kind - Financially Illiterate (sub-optimal money management skills/habit).

2. Why Financial Literacy levels are different among people (students)?

In my opinion, the answer to Why Financial Literacy level differs? can be found in our approach towards parenting. And Financially Literate or Illiterate, is just an outcome of our approach towards parenting.

Think about it!

Our parenting style does not originate out of thin air, isn't it?
Rather it is deeply rooted in our socio-cultural-belief systems & it manifests itself from this paradigm.

Referring back to my personal story, during my growing up years my exposure to managing & understanding money (financial literacy) was negligible. Reflecting back, I realise it was a natural outcome of my socio-cultural background & my upbringing in a Bengali educated-working-middle-class family background.
Financial illiteracy during growing up years is not just limited to my personal experience, rather this is a typical scenario a child experiences during their growing up years, in an Indian educated-working-middle-class-family background.
Our Parenting approaches are more focused on formal education, good marks, entrance examination & aiming for a good job. In this road map of upbringing our children, sadly imparting life skills - Financial Literacy, is excluded from the syllabus.

Let's ask ourselves, what are the consequences for being Financially Illiterate?

Well not a rosy picture - financial bad habits, debts, low on savings & investments, risks not covered, no financial goals, forever dependency on job, lack of wealth, not achieving financial independence......a gloomy list!.

As a matter of fact, for our future generation, Financial Literacy will become far more important than ever before. Our children are going to live as adults (working professionals) in a future economy (world), which probably would be more uncertain & fast-paced change would be the only constant. Consumerism, targeted marketing (data analytics), push for instant gratification, easy loans, EMIs, spending through apps, digital wallets are going to be their constant companion. Therefore, Financial Literacy is a necessity for today's children & should be inculcated through their growing up years, before it's too late.

By being little creative, as parents we can develop 'N' number of ways to introduce Financial Literary (money management concepts) to our children. Listing out few broad approaches, in this direction:

  • During Late childhood (approx. 6 years to 12 years)
  1. Inculcation of Numismatics (coin collection) hobby in our children, is an interesting way of raising awareness about money/currencies.
  2. Piggy bank - introduces children to concept of savings & delayed gratification.
  3. Introduce children to concepts of M.R.P. (price), quantity (weight, ml), expiry date, best buy options, verifying bills etc. A fun & effective way of doing this is through experiential learning. Give them opportunity to shop, make payment, check bills in super-market/shops, under your guidance.
  4. Give them understanding of household cash flow (i.e. you work to earn money). So that children don't assume for long, ATM machines are Santa Clause in disguise :-)
  5. Introduce children to different modes of payments (hard cash, online, digital, cheque, DD etc)
  6. Opening a minor bank account, introduces the child to simple concepts of banking. Guide them to put their money in their bank account (e.g. their piggy bank collection, money they received as gifts/blessings during birthdays, festivals).
  • Adolescence (approx. 12 years to 16 years)
  1. Giving children pocket money (weekly/monthly allowances) & offering them basic guidance on how to effectively manage their expenses, within their budget (allowances). 
  2. Encouraging children to keep track of their allowances. As parent, you can go through their expense tracker on a periodic basis. (the idea is not to scrutinize, but to engage with them in a dialogue & help them learn best practices)
  3. Gradually & systematically, introducing our children to advanced concepts: Investments, Risk covers, Loans, Assets-Liabilities, Tax filing, Financial goals etc. You can offer them experiential learning by involving them in your regular finance management practices.
  4. Encouraging children to think, to ask questions, & to express their opinion. (Don't super-impose your thinking about money on them. The idea is to educate & empower our children by making them well-informed & not to sub-consciously super-impose our socio-cultural-beliefs of money on them).
  5. Last but not the least, the most difficult act - being a good role model :-) Children learn by observing. All the above strategies would be less effective, if they see us walk the talk. We will have to lead by example.

Food for thought!

All of us teach our children, 'HOW to earn money', by educating them to become independent working professionals. Unfortunately most of us, don't teach our children, 'WHAT to do with money', once they start earning!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Change Agent series (2/3): Moneyshiksha - Pursuit of Financial Literacy

Change Agent series – features individuals who are contributing in their own way, in challenging the status quo, for bringing about a positive progressive change.

"I lost my Dad when I was 29 & being the eldest child had the responsibility thrust upon me to take charge of my mother’s finances. I personally observed the painful transformation of my mother from a happy housewife who just signed anywhere told to one who could handle bank transactions herself. Be it depositing cheques to writing them she learned it bit by bit by asking around. I used to wonder how it would have been if my mother knew 'how to' from the beginning. Asking and learning at this stage made her feel more despondent" - Ms Shubha Ganesh. 

Sometimes adversities in life, becomes the impetus for a life long mission.
Reflecting back, Shubha vividly remembers the painful transformation her mother had to undergo, after her father's untimely demise. The importance of financial literacy, dawned upon her as she could feel the pain her mother was undergoing, in her struggle of financial management. 

Also having an academician mindset, she soon realised financial illiteracy at her home was not an exception to the norm. Sadly, abysmal lack of financial literary was the norm & by the time a person recognises this flaw in their skill repertoire, unfortunately it's already too late in the day. 

Shubha fondly expresses her gratitude for Mr. Y.S. Hegde (retired Managing Director of Can Fin, Canara Bank) saying he has played a significant role during the formative years of Moneyshiksha. 

The central theme of her mission, draws inspiration from Albert Einstein's famous quote: "Everything should be made as simple as possible". Her aim is to simplify financial education by delivering it at the level people understand (non-finance background).

Walking on the road less traveled, eventually Shubha's vision, idea, thoughts, experiences & learning came together in the form of Moneyshiksha a 'financial literacy & individual investor education program'.

Walk us through the early days of Moneyshiksha?

"Those days, I used to regularly write articles in Economic Times & I consider it very humbling getting to Mr. Y.S. Hegde, reading my columns & he finding them of value & substance" - Shubha.

Around that time, Mr. Hegde was in leadership position with Canara Bank & had just retired as Managing Director - Can Fin Homes. One of the common grounds between them was a keen interest in the field of personal finance. A meeting took place through a common friend & the idea of teaching personal finance to commoners, instantly struck the chord. 

In Mr. Y.S. Hegde's own words, "In 2010 very few people spoke about financial planning in India. During my frequent travels aboard, I have seen that personal finance education helped people a lot. I shared my experiences & wanted to do the same in India with Ms. Shubha".

The first program 'Be your own Financial Planner', was launched on October 2011, conducted at Royal Orchid Hotel Bangalore. Mr. Hegde took the lead in organizing this event & Ms. Shubha played the role of a teacher. A passionate teacher & academician, Shubha ensured all the learning outcomes - concepts, practical applications were well comprehended by all the participants. Post it's successful launch, a series of sessions were conducted on a regular internal at Times of India Building Bangalore & many other venues - Yoga centers, for retired people, academic institutions (including MBA colleges) & IT companies.

In recent times, Mr. Hegde busy travel schedule keeps him away for considerable long duration. He fondly reflects back & says, "We did our bit to spread financial literacy among people. I teach about financial lifecycle guide to people. People should understand how to approach their finances at each stage of their life. I also look at finances from the angle of our Hindu scriptures. Saraswathi Ashtakam book talks about the need for Lakshmi, Saraswati & Durga representing wealth, knowledge & health all equally important for complete happiness. Now Ms. Shubha, is carrying out the good work started by us. I hold on high esteem her in-depth understanding of the subject & her passion to contribute to the society".   

So what is financial literacy? 

In her own words, Shubha explains:
"Today our approach is to depend on somebody who rightly or wrongly displays some confidence and knowledge about investing. We take their advice as gospel truth and blindly invest. If it is wrong investment we blame them. We do not take charge of our finances.

In contrast, financial literacy is having sufficient knowledge to manage your own money properly. So financial literacy will give you the confidence and ability to invest right after duly consulting experts but owning the investment decision yourself".

Shubha strongly believes, financial literacy is a very important life skill. She beautifully articulates the rational why financial literacy is so important:

"Finance pervades our life today. When child grows up we tell him or her to go to the best schools to “earn more”.  But we do not educate them what to do with it? How to preserve it for the future? & how it will be required in later years? So I feel however far you go in your field of expertise a bit of financial knowledge leads you to have a secure life". 

Having the basic understanding of what is financial literacy & why it is important, makes so much of common sense. Yet why is financial literacy, so elusive among the general population? 

Shubha mentions, the root causes for poor financial literary are:
  • Finance is considered as 'difficult', 'boring' & highly avoidable' by an average person. So educating the reluctant requires high level of dedication & patience.
  • Our formal education system (school, colleges) does not consider financial literacy important enough & hence does not allocate high level of resource and time. 
She points out, lack of financial literacy is in fact a global phenomenon.

However, being an eternal optimist, she is quick to mention the wheels of change, has been set into motion. On a global landscape, United States of America has done commendable efforts to correct this lacunae. Back at home too, Regulators are now seriously putting efforts to spread personal finance knowledge, though with limited success. 

Shubha proposes the following project charter, for pursuit of financial literacy:
  • Personal finance should be taught at school (middle school to high school levels). 
  • Educators & parents should encourage children to attend such classes or programs. 
  • Make financial literacy a natural process rather than a forced education. 
  • Ask questions without fear or shame. 
  • You need to know just enough to ask the right questions before investing.
  • As a grown up adult you should read and learn the basics of financial literacy. 
In this pursuit, Moneyshiksha plays a big, meaningful role as a change agent - 
  • Striving to bring about shift in mindset of general population 
  • Inculcating financial literacy in parallel to mainstream education
  • Proactive positive intervention (knowledge & skill enhancement) to mitigate crisis
Like all inspiring stories, Moneyshiksha started small by teaching at colleges, but it always kept a lofty goal of trying to solve the financial illiteracy problem prevalent among the general population. It aspires to empower the individuals, who are most ignored & subjected to exploitation or misguidance by "so called experts".

Moneyshiksha is an independent educator, not affiliated to any financial institution or organisation. Being independent & non-affiliated is it's biggest strength as it speaks volumes of it's unbiased nature, zero conflict of interest & it's deep rooted philosophy on education.

Moneyshiksha's mission statement, beautifully narrates their educational philosophy: 
'Financial empowerment comes from financial education. We enable individual investors by educating them, by delivering knowledge of managing personal finances in simple and easy steps to investors of all ages'.

Faculty members at Moneyshiksha, are all experienced senior finance professionals, with teaching experience at premier B-schools. Through their educational seminars & workshops, they strive to bring in value by: 
  • Teaching an individual financial concepts & techniques, for managing their finance
  • Bridges the knowledge gap between individuals & the financial products
  • Road map creation of an individual's life long journey of wealth creation
  • A wide range of modules - Fundamentals to advanced investment picking strategies
As in real life, a journey is far from ideal, Moneyshiksha's story is also made up of real life flesh & blood. They started quite small, taking baby steps by teaching in colleges. Eventually, they ventured out into public space by conducting workshops & programs as an independent entity. There have been times, when their workshops were attended by very few participants. Needless to say, many times they have incurred financial loss & have been subjected to big dent to their morale. 

Upon reflection Shubha says,"The first challenge is to convince people that they need to know about personal finance.The mind shift, people have to make is our biggest barrier". Despite these low phases, Moneyshiksha has persisted with their mission 'pursuit of financial literacy' & their goal of educating as many individuals as they can.

For encouraging people to take up personal financial classes, she tried offering various freebies (very nominal fees to completely free of charge classes), as motivators. But to her surprise, she found free classes were not valued. In her own words, "What pained me was to see people walking in, walking out, disrespecting faculty members time & efforts. After a series of such bad experiences, Moneyshiksha adopted a model of reasonable fees for it's educational program. This ensures enrollment of students who are serious about learning & increases the engagement level.
There are other practical challenges, which Shubha's recognises as an hindrance while reaching out to the younger generation. In her own words, "My challenge as an educator is that education now has become rote learning. However, with width of knowledge acquired by reading is almost non-existent among youngsters. I am trying to be on Board of Education in many colleges to include practical training as part of curriculum. Moneyshiksha tries to bridge this gap to an extent". 

Apart from external factors, Shubha has to deal with internal challenges as well:
  • Pursuing self-education & adding on to her skills: After her Chartered Accountancy, instead of carrying on in auditing & taxation, she switched over to stock analysis & stock market. She educated herself further in this field by pursing a post graduate diploma in Equity Research.  She gives lot of credit to the support she has received from her husband in this journey, "My husband encouraged me to explore this field and has been my guide and mentor throughout".
  • Time management: Being a working professional & a family to manage. Moneyshiksha is Shubha's weekend effort & in this trade-off she has to sacrifice family time.
So what keeps her going, in midst of all these upheavals & challenges?

Shubha is quick to respond, "Passion & Compassion!"

"Every time somebody comes back to me and says that they have benefited from my workshops it drives me to do more. I think with my workshops I am able to convince people that equity investing is not taboo and they can generate wealth through equity mutual fund. It pains me to see people lose money due to bad investing or bad advice. So I am trying to do as much as I can to avert it". 

How does the road ahead, looks like for Moneyshiksha?

With a twinkle in her eyes, Shubha responds "Till date, we have reached out to more than 10,000 people & we plan to reach at least a million more".

Quite a lofty milestone for Shubha & Moneyshiksha. But when one is fuelled with passion, inner drive to bring about a social change, their pursuit transforms into a mission much bigger than themselves. Moneyshiksha's mission continues to gather momemtum & it continues to bring about positive change in people's life through their pursuit of financial literacy.