Making a game out of going into debt

6th February 2015 at 00:00
New scheme teaches personal finance skills through play

Pupils as young as 10 are learning how to handle tax and debt in a pioneering new project in North Ayrshire.

The scheme involves using a board game to teach pupils how to budget and develop personal finance skills. It is being piloted among P6 and P7 pupils at Dykesmains Primary School in Saltcoats and could eventually be rolled out across Scotland.

The Skills 4 Bills game was introduced into schools by Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB), an organisation responsible for administering personal bankruptcy and recording corporate insolvencies in Scotland. It explores budgeting and other aspects of personal finance such as paying tax and evaluating deals.

After each child is allocated a job, they find out how much of their salary they have left when tax is deducted. They then choose a home and decide on their mode of transport and how much they will spend on food. Any leftover money can be used for holidays or leisure activities.

Players also have to consider how developments such as having a baby will affect their financial situation.

Meanwhile, staff overseeing the game try to sell them the most expensive options. At the end of each round, players have to visit the "accountant" to find out if they have stayed in budget. If not, they must draw up a debt repayment plan.

"Debt has long been something of an unspoken subject, which means young people often simply don't have the tools or knowledge to handle their finances adequately," said AiB chief executive Rosemary Winter-Scott.

"Our aim is to help shape young people's attitudes towards money in a positive fashion at as early an age as possible. There is also the spin-off benefit of getting children talking about it in school and those conversations being replicated in the home with their parents."

AiB is hoping to expand the programme across North Ayrshire and eventually the whole of Scotland.

According to AiB, there were 2,633 personal insolvencies in Scotland in the three months to the end of December 2014.

Skills 4 Bills was developed by consumer debt company Cabot Credit Management, and has been endorsed by financial education charity Personal Finance Education Group and the Credit Services Association.

Although the project exposes young children to some adult concerns, Dykesmains headteacher Nancy Robb said the school took the view that "children should be prepared at the earliest possible age for their future in the world of work and the responsibilities and challenges of good citizenship".

She added: "When the pupils first played the game they ended up in debt. But they learned more and more about budgets and prioritising their money, so the next time they became much more astute with their money."

The project has also been backed by Education Scotland. Jim Lally, education officer with responsibility for financial education, said it was important that "young people make the connections between what they learn in school and the financial challenges they will face as they progress through school to adult life". He added: "Developing skills for life, learning and work is at the heart of the curriculum and partnerships such as this [are] important if we are to improve the future economic well-being of all our young people."

A similar project in Finland, named Me amp; MyCity, was one of six award-winners at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar last year.

With Me amp; MyCity, children apply for jobs before visiting one of eight miniature towns, where they are given a mock bank card and allowed to spend their earnings. But sometimes they are unsuccessful in their applications and must learn to cope with not being able to afford everything they would like.

The scheme was founded in 2010 and some 40,000 children visited the sites last year.

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