Our children, our future

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Sir Derek Wanless NatWest's chief executive,pleads for a long-term approach to financial literacy.

SHOULD business be interested in and understand education? Is there a business case to devote time and resources to develop views and programmes which can be used to assist learning and raise standards? If a business does get involved, would education professionalswelcome this new influence and listen?

My experience is that the answers are Yes, Yes and Yes. Why? The world is changing and the future of our society is not something that any of us can ignore. The long-term success of any business is based on investment in the future.

Millennium musing is an ever-growing industry, but technological change, competitive pressures and, not least, the way in which financial decisions are shifting from the state or company responsibility to the individual means that the world will be a very different place. Business has a perspective and a role in shaping the future based on its practical experience. It has an interest and duty to share its perspective with others, which is why I chair Business in the Community's education leadership team.

An example of the need to work in partnership with education can be found in the financial services sector. Financial choices are a good thing, but individuals need to be equipped with the right skills mix to be able to make effective decisions, be they financial or otherwise. Our success as a business is built on the ability of our customers to manage their finances effectively. It is, therefore, imperative that we help invest in the right learning opportunities for young people and to look at how we might bring a useful extra perspective to the learning process. After all, young people are our customers and staff of the future.

This is why NatWest has invested considerable effort in research and consultation into financial literacy. As a result we developed our own programme to promote financial literacy skills in young people: Face 2 Face with Finance. This secondary school programme emerged from a partnership with educationists and is delivered in the classroom. Our staff invest their time and practical experience by going into schools to work with teachers in its delivery.

This is not simple because it is often easier for a business just to write a cheque or come up with a new education pack. However, money alone has only limited value: it is our staff who are the depository of real knowledge and who can provide the living proof that there is a practical world out there. This approach has proved successful as more than half of secondary schools have registered to participate.

Our purpose is to help raise standards. Initial evaluation by the National Foundation for Educational Research has shown that Face 2 Face is already making a measurable difference. This was possible because we engaged education professionals. We are now seeking ways of going further and playing our full part by engaging in the wider public policy debate.

Raising standards is a concern for everybody and we believe we are playing our part in building an understanding of financial literacy learning. Businesses have a voice and should use it. Although many things are uncertain about the new Millennium, one thing is certain: we will continue to make a positive contribution.

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