They are penny wise, but not pound foolish

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Every year, Glasgow Academy runs a Money Week to teach its pupils about different aspects of finance. Douglas Blane went along to a session

The young man in the black moustache lovingly counts his wad of notes and surveys the activity of his fellow pupils as they struggle to earn a living, pay the bills and stay out of his clutches. "I like being the bad guy," he says. "If they borrow $200, they have to pay me $300. I'm the moneylender. I don't want to be the bad guy in real life," he adds. "It's just a game."

But this sweat-shop simulation is rather more than a game, says Jean McMorran, head of Atholl Prep at Glasgow Academy. "It's part of our Money Week, which aims to teach our pupils three aspects about money - earning it, saving it and giving it away."

Guest speakers and a variety of activities keep the youngsters busy, learning and thinking about parts of the world which are new to them, says teacher Tom Carlin, who adapted the game from online resources. "You don't expect P5 kids to understand inflation. But presented to them like this, they do get it," he says. "They start to understand why prices rise and that if the Government prints money, its value goes down. They also see that it's poor people who suffer most."

This social side of money, rather than the purely financial, seems to be having the most impact. "We worry about somebody taking our pencil," says Lucy-Jo Malone, who has just moved into P6. "These people worry about dying."

The game seemed fun at first, says classmate Hugo McGregor. "But it gets stressful. You have to keep making more money. But because of all the bills, no matter how hard you work, you always stay poor - and the children don't get to play at all. They have to work all the time."

Lucy-Jo contrasts her own experience with the role she was playing. "The game was fun for us, but for them it's not fun at all. It's really serious. We're lucky and we think we're not."

Last term's Money Week was an improvement on the previous year's, she adds. "Then, we were just selling stuff like pencil sharpeners and diaries. Now we know what we're doing if we're going to grow up and help these little children. We should know all about it and do something, because little children are dying for no reason."

Money Week had its origins in a course run by Learning and Teaching Scotland, says Ms McMorran. "It gave me ideas and I realised I could link it to Curriculum for Excellence. The basic structure is a set of talks, workshops and activities delivered by experts.

"We contacted the Financial Education Partnership, run by the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland, which provides volunteers to deliver workshops in schools. Then we talked to parents to get them involved, to try to use their skills.

"That went well. Parents are often nervous about going into a classroom, so they ask their own kids what will work - and they say `get us doing things; make it interactive'."

This is essential nowadays, says Linda Moon, who, as head of mathematics, has been collaborating closely on Money Week. "Straight talks don't work so well. It has to be bright, interactive and zappy to keep their attention.

"For us in the senior school, Money Week is about easing the transition, about teachers getting to know the younger pupils and what they're learning. Previously, they didn't do money in terms of real-life problems until senior school. Now it runs right through the curriculum."

With the structure set up, and parents and external experts enlisted, further developments came from the teachers, says Ms McMorran. "You start with an idea which is simple but good, and the teachers come up with all sorts of activities to make it better."

Besides the sweat-shop simulation, these included running a shop, making a vending machine, using the euro, following a penny, banking role-play, fund-raising for charity and the economics of making milk.

"The children love all that," she adds. "It's interesting that some are saying it was better this time. It is moving forward as we try things out. There will be differences again this year, but the basic structure will remain. It works so well."

Trading trainers game: Imagestrading_trainers_game_tcm16-19403.pdf


As the director of customer relations at Lloyds Banking, Gavin Halliday is comfortable giving presentations at all levels up to board of directors, he says. "But talking to 10-year-olds for an hour is a different ball game. Attention spans are short and banking isn't exciting for them."

A family advantage helped him prepare for Money Week last year, he says. "My wife is a teacher here, so she sat down with me, went over it and told me to ask lots of questions. I did the history of banking and had them running around with big bags of coins and pound;20 notes. This time it was about planning a holiday."

Youngsters have little notion of the cost of hotels, ice creams and fairground rides, he says. "At their age, I had no concept of money. So I'm getting them to think about what things cost, where the money comes from, how you save and plan a holiday. They enjoy it and it's not as terrifying as I thought it might be. In fact, it's great fun." education

The Financial Education Partnership at the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland offers a variety of workshops, including managing your money, sensible borrowing, finance for life, and team work and decision making.

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