Financial Literacy

Cents and Sensibility

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Spain has recognized the need for financial education in schools, and all elementary schools are now required to teach basic knowledge about money management and saving. A high-school program promoted by the exchange supervisory authority and the central bank takes financial education several steps further.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Around 500 schools – about 5 percent of all Spanish schools – now include financial education in their lesson plans.
    • The program is a collaboration between the Spanish Securities Market Commission (CNMV) and the Spanish central bank.
    • Transparency International wants the program to be used to teach students about corruption.
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    Audio

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Madrid school courtesy photo 78137902 main
Students at the Ramón y Cajal private school in Madrid work on iPads and are required to take financial literacy classes as part of their curriculum. Source: Colegio Ramón y Cajal

Susana Lozano, a teacher at Madrid private school Ramón y Cajal, explains to her class that an identity card is needed to open a bank account. “The bank automatically forwards all account information to the tax authority,” says Ms. Lozano. A 13-year-old boy raises his hand and asks: “Does that mean people who don’t pay taxes don’t have to show their ID?” The boy has apparently heard about the corruption scandals and tax tricks involving Spanish politicians and business owners. The news that captivates a country is often reflected in the questions children ask.

He is fortunate to have a teacher like Ms. Lozano, to whom he can direct his questions like that. She teaches a one-hour class once a week to ninth and tenth graders, teaching them the most important issues surrounding money. The lessons are part of an initiative by the Spanish market regulator, the country’s Securities Market Commission (CNMV), and the Spanish central bank. “Our goal is to improve the financial knowledge of all Spaniards,” says Gloria Caballero of CNMV. To reach as many people as possible, she works with banks and insurance companies, as well as the Spanish education ministry.

Thanks to this collaboration, financial literacy lessons have been offered at some Spanish schools since 2011. The initiative provides free instructional materials and suggested lesson plans with financial topics. Participation is voluntary for schools, though 500 have already included the topic in their lesson plan. But that is still only 5 percent of all Spanish schools.

“Business owners are concerned, because companies and banks now have a bad reputation, after the crisis and the scandals.”

Esther Jiménez, Dean of Department of Education at the International University of Catalonia

Since the 2014 educational reform, all elementary schools have been required to incorporate a few hours of basic knowledge about money management and saving into their social studies classes. The requirement was introduced after the results of the international PISA education rankings showed that Spanish schoolchildren were below average among industrialized nations in the OECD when it comes to financial literacy. A few years earlier many Spaniards had gone deeply into debt by taking out low-interest mortgages on expensive homes. When the real estate bubble burst, the value of their properties plunged, and in the ensuing recession, many were no longer able to make their payments.

At the high-school level, financial lessons are only required for students majoring in social sciences. In Spain, students choose a specialization in the upper level of high school. Those who choose social science are then required to take six hours of economic studies a week, which includes financial topics. Microeconomics is taught in the first year and macroeconomics in the second.

For Esther Jiménez, dean of the Department of Education at the International University of Catalonia, this isn’t enough. “We need financial literacy to be an independent subject for all students, and we need teachers to have the necessary training,” she says. Catalan business owners agree. “They are concerned, because companies and banks now have a bad reputation, after the crisis and the scandals,” says Ms. Jiménez. “So students should be introduced to these topics early on and should also learn business ethics.”

Transparency International, a non-governmental organization, also wants to see the fight against corruption begin in the schools. For instance, the organization argues, if students are taught which goods or services people are allowed or not allowed to accept, no one can later claim that he didn’t know what constituted a bribe.

But Spain isn’t quite there yet when it comes to financial education. Even in the schools that are voluntarily teaching finance subject matter to 12 to 15-year-olds, the content varies widely. Some schools integrate the material into math and some into social studies, while others treat financial education as a separate subject.

Susana Lozano’s schools belongs to the latter category. A former tax accountant, the 44-year-old went back to school to become a teacher. Financial studies are required at her private schools and while the students receive grades, they do not count when a student transfers to another school. “I think it’s important that even the little ones have a basic understanding of financial matters,” says Ms. Lozano. “Children become independent at a much younger age today, so they should also learn to manage money early on.”

“Children become independent at a much younger age today, so they should also learn to manage money early on.”

Susana Lozano, Financial literacy teacher

Her 9th grade lessons begin with simple definitions. What is a credit card and what can it do? Why should you never sign something you don’t understand? Why do you need a budget? In the second year, the students are assigned to groups, where they practice running a business. In the groups, some are assigned to handle financing, while others deal with how best to position their fictitious company in the market or to minimize production costs.

These early role-playing games especially make sense when one considers the higher percentage of business owners in the Spanish population. About 17 percent of all Spaniards are self-employed.

Business leaders also visit Ms. Lozano’s school regularly to talk about their work. The head of beverage producer Coca-Cola Spain has been there and so has a manager with internet giant Google. “The students always ask the same question: ‘How much do you make?'” says Ms. Lozano with a smile. Apparently her students already understand the value of money.

Ms. Lozano organizes the visits with the help of foundations and business schools, which offer experts. But bankers and insurance experts from the companies that have joined the initiative run by the CNMV and the central bank also visit the schools. A code of conduct was designed to ensure that the people giving these talks are not engaging in any hidden advertising. “The information material used by the speakers may not include any company logos,” Ms. Caballero of CNMV explains. “They aren’t even supposed to reveal which company they work for.”

Ms. Lozano’s school is in one of Madrid’s more upscale neighborhoods, and it is a trailblazer in every respect. Last year, a student video on the importance of money won a prize awarded by the CNMV and the central bank for the best financial project. The first compulsory foreign language at the school is English and the second one is Chinese.

The school does not use blackboards, notebooks or books. Instead, Ms. Lozano shows her PowerPoint presentation on large flat screens in the classroom, while the students load the presentation onto their iPads.

“What is the rate of interest for deposits in Spain at the moment?” Ms. Lozano asks. “All of you have internet access, so look it up!” About 30 pairs of fingers swipe across their iPads, the digital learning vanguard of the next generation – or at least the more affluent ones. Like a financial education, students equipped with iPads is still the exception and not the rule in Spanish schools.

Sandra Louven is Handelsblatt’s Madrid correspondent, covering Spain, Portugal and North Africa. To contact the author: louven@handelsblatt.com.

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