Drinking from a Firehose

June 05, 2020

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Have you ever felt like you were "drinking from a fire hose” when taking in new information?

We've all probably had this unpleasant, but fortunately metaphorical, experience at one point or another, whether on the job, in school, or just navigating life in general.

The overarching message? There’s too much to learn all at once.

In few places is this trend more evident than in the area of financial education. Our high school students, often inundated with pieced-together information covering an enormous range of financial topics in minute detail, feel overwhelmed by the flood.

So, what can personal finance educators and financial education curricula developers do to manage the flow while simultaneously providing students with the crucial information and skills they’ll need to deal with an ever-changing financial marketplace? Here are some of our thoughts:

Focus on decision-making and application relevant to students’ lives.

In education, we often hear the phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Let’s avoid this trap. A high school financial education curriculum should offer content relevant to high schoolers’ personal goals and situations—both now and in the future—via well-designed, carefully sequenced, and interconnected materials with clearly defined objectives. A curriculum should also help students develop fundamental financial attitudes and critical thinking skills. This combination of core knowledge, attitudes, and skills can then be built upon as students work to understand new information as they encounter it.

Pay careful attention to the quality of information presented.

It isn’t just the quantity of information that trips students up. It’s the quality as well. By quality, we mean the level of generalizability. For example, there’s little practical use in memorizing dates associated with consumer credit card laws when long-term value lies in understanding consumer rights and responsibilities across a variety of contexts. And, as no financial education curriculum can be perfectly up-to-date at all times, time spent learning a discrete, soon-to-be obsolete skill like how to write a check could be better spent engaging in an evaluation of the benefits and risks associated with spending tools in general—a comparison exercise that stands the test of time.

Provide access to information the “players” hold.

Expose students to both sides of the coin. While it’s crucial for students to understand, for example, the pros and cons of taking out a student loan or purchasing renters’ insurance, it’s also vital for them to be cognizant of a lender’s or an insurance provider’s perspective. Students should be aware that financial providers have their own, sometimes conflicting, interests in mind when interacting with consumers. A financial education curriculum should endeavour to highlight these conflicts. At the same time it should help to teach and encourage students to question, research, and evaluate the trustworthiness and reliability of sources of information when making a decision.

It’s time to put away the fire hose. A focused, comprehensive, research-based financial education curriculum is a better tool for educators to use as they help prepare high school students to face financial decisions now and in the future.

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