Sensitivity & Biases

Why can financial literacy be challenging to teach?

In teaching financial literacy knowledge and skills, the teacher must keep in mind that many students come from families and backgrounds where financial realities may be a cause for stress in their lives. Other students may come from families and backgrounds where there may not be positive role models in making financial decisions. Some faith traditions have specific beliefs surrounding financial concepts, which need to be considered in classroom instruction.

Educators are called upon to demonstrate sensitivity to the many financial circumstances in which students and their families may find themselves, and to the full range of students’ learning needs. Understanding this range of experiences and viewpoints highlights the importance of teachers presenting information in a factual manner using trusted sources without prejudice to culture, academic ability or socio-economic status. The key consideration is in creating the opportunity to build financial literacy while respecting the range of backgrounds of all students. Presenting information in a dispassionate manner, highlighting the ramifications of financial choices and ensuring the classroom is a safe environment for sharing information and opinions are ways that the teacher can support the learner.

In an inclusive classroom, there may be students with a disability who face much higher rates of both unemployment and poverty and possibly many living in families on social assistance. Special consideration should be given in these situations and the teacher must understand that this is the reality for many Ontarians, especially those with physical and mental challenges. Creating opportunities for learning how to move beyond these realities must be the goal of instruction in such circumstances. Doing this in a manner that doesn’t set these students apart from their peers must be done with sensitivity. 

What is my bias?

When addressing topics that can be challenging to teach, all students need to feel supported in a stable, non-judgmental learning environment where they’re free to learn about and explore their own personal beliefs and the personal and social views of others. It’s important for teachers to be aware of and plan for how to manage conflicting opinions in the course of classroom discussions. All students must have the opportunity to experience an inclusive environment where their thoughts and values are respected regardless of ancestry, culture, ethnicity, sex, physical or intellectual ability, race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other similar factors.

To examine their personal beliefs and identify potential biases that they may have about their students with regard to financial literacy, teachers can ask themselves some or all the following reflective and guiding questions:

Reflective Questions 

  • What personal biases, prejudices and stereotypes do I have about financial literacy? What experiences have shaped these biases?
  • How knowledgeable and confident am I in teaching topics relating to financial literacy?
  • Do I understand and value the socio-economic background of my students, as well as their diversity?
  • Do I use language and phrases when teaching financial literacy concepts that are unintentionally stigmatizing? 

Guiding Questions 

  • How can I plan my instruction ensuring that it’s sensitive to students of different socio-economic backgrounds?
  • How can I respect the decisions made by students and their families, while addressing the need to help students make reasoned financial choices?
  • How can I help my students become aware of the far-reaching effects their financial choices have on the world we live in?
  • What are the financial literacy related experiences of my students and how can I help them learn from those experiences?

Suggestions for Instruction

After asking these questions, teachers should analyze their responses and identify any areas where their potential bias might be disruptive to creating an open and inclusive learning environment. While it’s not expected of teachers to change their opinions on certain topics, they do have a responsibility to encourage students to explore and reflect on their own thoughts without feeling pressured to follow those of their teacher.

Conversations about health and well-being can also touch on financial rights and responsibilities of citizenship, such as how the payment of taxes is essential for the provision of health care, education, safe water, social services and other aspects that support healthy communities. The teacher may need to explore some of the concepts around a healthy school and community within the framework of citizenship responsibilities and rights, which build financial literacy skills.

It’s important to be proactive in examining these reflective and guiding questions to have optimal understanding of themselves and their students before examining any of the topics in a learning environment. Once this is achieved, it’s the responsibility of the teacher to promote open discussion with students by providing a safe, positive and confidential (if necessary) environment for students to discuss matters of their own experience with financial decisions.