Fiji students set to become the world's savviest savers

The project will teach money-management skills to young students in Fiji using innovative techniques, such as games, that engage as well as inform.

Russell Boyce RUS/DH/Reuters/File
Britain's Prince Charles sits with children from Solevu school during his visit to Castaway Island in Fiji in 2005. Fiji schools will be teaching basic personal money-handling skills to students at a young age.

Fiji is leading the world in money-management education, by exposing almost 200,000 students to savings and budgeting skills starting next month.

The Pacific islands are one of the least-banked areas of the world. That's why, at the 2009 Pacific Islands Forum, education and economic ministers set a goal to provide financial education for all school children by 2020.

One major tool in reaching this goal was the implementation of the Fiji Financial Education Curriculum Development (FinED Fiji) Project, which seeks to build money management education into primary and secondary school core curriculum by the 2013 school year. This financial education will reach 910 schools, 40 percent of whose students are female.

The FinED Fiji Project evolved from ministers' acknowledgment of the importance of teaching basic personal money-handling skills at a young age.

“The well-being of rural households can be quantifiably improved if one person in that household attends financial-literacy training and has a savings account," says a study conducted by the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program (PFIP) in 2009. The FinED Fiji project is funded by the Australian Aid Bilateral Program in Fiji and is overseen by both the Ministry of Education and PFIP.

Parents still play a role in financial education for their children, said Abigail Chang, a PFIP coordinator for the project. But they can’t always keep up with new technology.

“Personal money management also needs to keep up with the changing times. And we also realize that our children are now in a world where they’re dealing with mobile money, they’re dealing with ATM and Eftpos cards, which may not have been around at the time of their parents.”

The FinED Fiji Project will create financially competent youths by embedding money-management education into school subjects that are already a part of the core curriculum, such as math, English, and social studies. Since its takeoff in January 2011, FinED Fiji has been working on the development of innovative learning and teaching materials that will educate students through lessons and games that are engaging as well as informative.

Throughout their schooling, children will progressively learn to:

  • save, budget, and spend sensibly
  • be comfortable with key financial terms and concepts
  • choose and apply financial tools to create and manage income and wealth
  • plan for the future and recognize financial consequences and risks
  • become empowered to make informed financial judgments and decisions
  • set appropriate personal financial goals
  • understand the importance of time and commitment for achieving financial goals

One Fijian school, the Nadi Airport School, is leading the pack. It brought a financial education curriculum into its classrooms in May 2011.

Last week, the United Nations Development Programme deputy director for Asia Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini, visited the Nadi Airport School and had a chance to see the school’s commitment to teaching financial competency first hand. Rosellini sat in with a class of first graders (Class 1) for a lesson on "Saving, Spending Wisely, and Sharing," as well as a lesson for 13- to 14-year-olds (Class 8).

“I was impressed to see five-to-six year old students in Class 1 learn how to recognize money," Rosselini said, according to a PFIP news release. "In Class 8, I noted with interest how the students interacted to information on savings and investments as well as budgeting. I thought the group work to prepare and present a financial newspaper was an interesting way to integrate financial information which enthused the students.”

Fiji is at the forefront of financial education for youths. If it succeeds, it will encourage other countries to follow suit. Abigail Chang says that as far as they know no other country in the world has so comprehensively introduced money management into the school curriculum.

"Financial education is not the sole responsibility of the family or community," said Fiji's minister for education, Filipe Bole, according to a slideshow about FinED. "Perhaps in an ideal world that would be sufficient. The reality is that there are many families and communities who struggle financially and who don’t have the knowledge to make good choices and therefore can’t teach their children to make wise ones either. The management of money is an important life skill and where better to teach this than in a dynamic learning environment—the classroom."

Related articles: A 'demographic window' of opportunity: Why youth need bank access now

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

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