New era in Flanders secondary education

Text: Kristof De Witte and Kenneth De Beckker, University of Leuven
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September 1, 2019 marks an important day for financial literacy in Flanders. Since this school year, financial literacy became a mandatory part of the secondary education curriculum. Introducing financial literacy makes part of a larger reform where various key competences, as critical reflecting on media, digital literacy, sustainability, historical consciousness, are now part of the curriculum for 12–14 years old.  The Flemish curriculum makes a distinction between basic financial literacy competences that each individual student should minimally obtain, and more general financial literacy competences that should be acquired for the average student.

More top performers

Despite Flanders is performing well on the OECD Pisa questionnaire, Flemish students with weak financial literacy outcomes perform much lower than the average, with an important group of the population not reaching the minimum performance level. In addition, the gap between the top and bottom performers increased over the years. While in PISA 2012 8.7% of the 15-year-olds did not reach the basic level of financial literacy, meaning not be able to make simple decisions on everyday spending, this increased to 12% in PISA 2015. At the other end of the distribution, the share of top performers, those capable to understand concept such as transaction costs and the working of complex financial products, increased from 19.7% in PISA 2012 to 24% in PISA 2015. The gap between top and bottom is thus increasing. Therefore, the new curriculum on financial literacy competences is necessary.

Three main topics in curricula

The new curriculum for the economic and financial competences is divided in three main blocks :

1.           Developing insight into consumption behavior, income acquisition and financial products to estimate budget consequences in the short and long term.

2.           Explaining the functioning of companies and organizations and their social role.

3.           Reflecting on the functioning of markets and the economy as a system and indicating the influence of the government within the (inter)national context.

Each learning goal is typically composed of conceptual knowledge components, but it can also include procedural knowledge (i.e., knowing how to do something), factual knowledge (i.e., knowing how to use the concept in a sentence), and an affective dimension. A detailed discussion of the necessity of the curriculum and the content of it, will be published soon in the EUFin book.

Teachers should learn as well

As the curriculum is established now, the main issue for the next few years will be to increase the professional development of teachers with respect to financial literacy. Earlier research suggests that webinars and online tools might be a cost-effective way to improve the financial literacy skills of teachers, and improve their self-efficacy. Let’s see in the next PISA wave if the financial literacy levels of Flemish students become more homogeneous and whether the low performing students reach the basic competences.