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Learn to bank on your future

March is the month of the budget. It is also the month when a national push is being made on financial education. Gillian Macdonald reports

Walk along the high street in any Scottish city and you're sure to bump into garrulous teenagers on mobile phones, students scrutinising holiday bargains in travel agents' windows, or youths looking to buy their first car or land their first job. Money, money, money is what it's all about, but for youngsters who don't have a lot at their disposal, it's also the one thing that will have most of them running back home for help, or landing in debt.

Which is why Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland have formed an initiative costing the bank almost pound;0.5 million. Financial education is what it's about and the bank regards it as a sound investment.

The Royal Bank's resources are available to schools through a website with archive material from over the centuries. From the Darien Adventure to Georgian New Town, children can browse through historic business accounts and exchanges with the bank manager.

Last term, together with LT Scotland, the bank distributed a Standard grade business management pack to Scottish secondary schools, again extracting resources from its archives, to illustrate the business plans of old firms such as the Carron Company in Falkirk and contemporary traders such as Tesco.

This month, at a conference in Glasgow on the 27th, called Financial Education For All: Making It Happen, LTS and the Royal Bank will launch their latest joint enterprise - a CD-Rom to help young people deal with money, Facing up to Finance.

So, how streetwise are today's school leavers? Teachers can find out by taking them through the CD aimed at S3-4 personal and social education, and give them financial advice and citizenship education at the same time.

The six scenarios have gone down well at Musselburgh Grammar whre they were tried out by principal teacher of business studies, Jim Lally, who was seconded to LT Scotland for two-and-a-half years to help shape its financial education programme.

Pupils can move along the high street, click on the travel shop window, go into the shop, talk to the assistant, compare prices, dates and get their itinerary. Alternatively, they can try their hand at independent living in rented accommodation with flatmates, learn to cope with rent arrears, final demands for the electricity bill and avoid the eager loansharks. Or they can join an office, receive their first payslip and come to terms with tax codes and pension benefits.

Whichever they choose, they will be well-entertained by the two actors who pop up in various guises, from the Leonard Rossiter-type landlord to the academic student or hippy layabout with loanshark contacts. And all the while they will be using their judgment and clocking up scores which the teacher can monitor. At the end they can receive a certificate in financial education.

For younger children, the same collaboration has gone into a new series for Channel 4 schools, called Looking After the Pennies. Using real-life dramatisation, the series follows the fictional Penny family through a variety of everyday situations in which they have to make important decisions involving money. Starting on March 9, the three programmes are aimed at 11 to 14-year-olds.

It's a hefty investment by the bank and by Learning and Teaching Scotland, and if it pays off, it should see a new generation of youngsters leave school better prepared for independent living, more wary of adspeak and bargain offers. And if all else fails, at least they'll have learned that the Citizens' Advice Bureau is at the end of a phone.

Royal Bank of Scotland website is; Learning and Teaching Scotland, tel: 01382 443600

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