Tesco ergo sum

By PJ White

| 12 February 2013

It used to be a joke about Brits and their obsession with shopping. Now the government plans to build it into the national curriculum.

Students will not be taught to chant "I shop therefore I am" as proof of existence. Not yet anyway. But the desire is clearly to supplant Descartes' cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am – in youthful minds. Financial education is to be compulsory in the national curriculum. What's more, it is to be a part of citizenship.

What's wrong with that? Everything. Being a savvy consumer isn't, and cannot be, part of the citizenship education of a civilised, mature democracy. To see this, look at what else the latest consultation on the national curriculum sets out as the aims for citizenship. Pupils need to understand government, political systems and voting. They need to know about the role of law in society. They need to be taught to volunteer. All are recognisable as logical and justifiable elements of citizenship education.

Introduce financial education to that and confusion follows. Keeping track of finances, making ends meet and planning for future spending aren't about social and moral responsibility, community involvement or political literacy. They're essential lifeskills. It only makes sense to regard them as civic duties and obligations if you think a primary function of the citizen is to consume financial products.

There might be logic if the financial education proposed was designed to help young people read a balance sheet, say. It would make sense if they were introduced to public accounts, the income and spending decisions of various institutions. Or they might be helped to understand the role of treasurer of a local community group. But the curriculum is nothing like this. It looks like the wishlist of a consumer champion like self-appointed money-saving expert Martin Lewis. The subject content covers "the importance of personal budgeting, money management and range of financial products and services". That's at key stage 3. For key stage 4 the curriculum develops – to include, wait for it, "a range of more sophisticated financial products and services".

Why does this matter? Because financial education is so much more than being sold products by banks and insurance companies. It's about personal aspirations, managing relationships and staying healthy. It surely belongs in personal, social and health education, centred on students and building on their needs and interests.

If there are objections to PSHE, there is another option. Bring back home economics. You may mock, but it has a feel of the 1950s that ought to appeal to Mr Gove.

PJ White is editor of Youth Money

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