The importance of financial literacy is paramount in the age of the global financial crisis. Familiarity with the idea of saving and and knowledge concerning shares, mutual funds, stock exchanges, and various forms of deposits can help a person face life’s financial inconveniences more strongly than ever before. Sound financial literacy can not only help people at a personal level, but it will also benefit the nation as a whole resulting in a more efficient and flexible economy.
In order to achieve this dream, the general population — especially the young people (i.e. students), should be educated at the secondary level about making strong financial decisions even before they actually are in a position to make them. However, this alone is not enough, as it needs to be complimented by a process which educates the teachers regarding the financial system and how one can benefit from a good understanding of it.
Bangladesh, among the many developing nations, has proved itself a strong competitor in the race towards globalisation. The country’s economy has been mostly resilient to global turmoil, and the subprime crisis has left little impact on Bangladeshi markets as it was not too deeply involved with the world economy. Nevertheless, the capital market here is getting more and more integrated with the rest of the world, and it won’t be long before another financial shock deeply hampers the performance of the country’s economy. The formal Bangladeshi education system is composed of three mediums, English, Bengali and Arabic (Madrassa), where the scope of financial literacy is limited.
The education level of the country is still not in line with international benchmark; moreover, the number of students who drop out of school before completion of their secondary level studies is also relatively high compared to the region. Therefore, there is a dire need to implement a system whereby the young people of the country can learn more about the benefits of using their money more wisely.
One of the problems that Bangladesh faces comes in the form of the teachers at the secondary level not being educated enough themselves on the subject of educating youths about personal finances. Thus, before financial literacy among students can be considered, it is imperative that the teachers know more about the goals and challenges of enlightening the young people regarding the challenges they would face as they make multifaceted financial decisions.
The Commonwealth Finance Ministers meeting in Colombo in the year 2006, called upon the Secretariat to pursue work in the area of financial inclusion. This issue is relevant to most of the Commonwealth jurisdictions; the Secretariat’s work focuses on small states and poor vulnerable economies. The overall objective of these initiatives is to foster economic growth. Such programmes aim to bring banking services to the “unbanked” and to develop financial literacy courses for improving the ability of individuals to act more astutely and make more informed financial decisions.
In 2007, the Commonwealth Secretariat successfully completed a programme in which the focus was to train the teenagers on how to manage their money. The Secretariat’s financial literacy programme kicked off in the Caribbean, and over the last three years this project has educated young people about the benefits of using money more effectively. Since 2007 around 1,200 students in this region have benefitted from this project. More recently, the Secretariat has focused more closely on ‘Train-Trainers’ initiative which have reached trainers in 21 commonwealth countries throughout the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific.
Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) has extensive experience in working on issues relating to private sector development and in acting as a catalyst for bringing about policy reforms in Bangladesh. BEI through its ten years of research and advocacy experience has many success stories to its name. This includes donor mapping on skills development initiatives, business confidence survey, investment climate assessment, media diversification and liberalization, trade and investment, research on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), civil services training programme (CSTP), corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, advocacy programme for the introduction of a Tax Ombudsman, introduction of guidelines on corporate governance by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) among others, where BEI’s role was key in bringing about various policy reforms in Bangladesh.
In working on these issues, BEI has also established meaningful relationship with key opinion leaders and policy makers in the government and has established strong ties with elites in the private sector. As such BEI is in a unique position to implement this project and can play an important role in achieving the vision of Commonwealth Secretariat on Financial Literacy.
The objective of the project is to train high school teachers (English, Bengali and Arabic (Madrassa) medium) on issues related to savings, investment and protection against risk and to demonstrate how financial products can assist in doing so. The teachers would be then encouraged to disseminate the acquired knowledge to their students. This will be achieved by organizing ‘Train the Trainers’ workshops for teachers from the above mentioned three categories of schools with an overall objective to enable students to use financial information and resources in a more confident manner.
The writer is President, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, Dhaka. He can be reached at e-mail: [email protected]