It looks like the UK economy might start to open up over the next few months, with the PM and others emphasising the primacy of getting students back to school. The damage done to students by prolonged interruption to their education is always severe, so it is good to see that the resumption of normal schooling is a national priority. This resumption would be even better and more benefits of it brought into being an equally firm commitment to guarantee that every student is prepared for adult life more effectively than we have prepared them in the past.
The country has suffered a series of events of huge significance since the turn of the century, each one of which has had a damaging impact on the future lives of young people. The global financial crash of 2008 almost destroyed the financial system, and forced most governments to borrow vast sums of money to keep their banks afloat and maintain a functioning economy. Once the dust settled, we suffered ten years of crippling austerity which heralded the emergence of things like the ‘gig’ economy and the general reduction of support available to struggling families. We were in a weak state when Covid hit in the early spring of 2020. Public finances were in poor shape, the NHS was under immense pressure, and then we closed the economy to halt the spread of the virus, with all the unavoidable additional problems that created for millions of families. And on top of all that, we left the EU, and are now in a battle to overcome the impact of that on key parts of our economy.
These very difficult new circumstances require new solutions. And one of the key ones is to prepare young people in a radically different way to thrive in 21st century Britain. These new skills can best be described as financial life-skills education. This is a synthesis of practical financial literacy, and a guide to how society functions (because you cannot separate finance from its social context) so that young people understand how the architecture of the world they live in has been built, and therefore how they can play their full role as engaged, active citizens.
The key components of financial life-skills education are based on giving every young person a set of functionally useful skills (based on practical knowledge) to manage their four key life-long relationships with employment, finance, the community, and the environment. If you think about it, the interconnected things that we all manage on a daily basis, fall under one of those headings, and our traditional school syllabus is not adequate to deliver the knowledge and skills required to manage each of them successfully, simply because it was never designed to do so.
New challenges bring forth new answers. We need to create a planned program of financial life-skills education for the next generation to cope with a new and increasingly complex world because the skills they leave school with are just not up to the job.