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Could free online courses improve financial literacy?
Posted by admin on 13th June 2015

The efforts of US universities to educate the population with free online courses has inspired private businesses to do the same – and in the process, improve financial literacy among the nation’s students and teachers.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s biggest auditing firms, announced Monday that it would boost its three-year-old $160m Earn Your Future financial literacy program with an additional $30m to digitalize its core classes so that anyone with a computer can access them for free.

“We really felt this has to help everyone,” said Shannon Schuyler, a principal and corporate responsibility leader at PwC and president of the PwC Charitable Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm. “Knowledge should be everyone’s to access.”

Financial literacy is not only key to the nation’s economic health, but also an important tool in the fight against inequality and poverty. Christine Legarde of the International Monetary Fund said in an address last year that financial inclusion can be a “powerful agent for strong and inclusive growth” for the more than 2.5 billion people in the world currently lacking access to basic financial services. Companies like PwC, Capital One, Discover Financial and Mastercard are now working to help Americans improve their financial skills, which could ultimately boost their bottom lines.

PwC, which already offers some basic lessons online, plans to make 22 of its 43 modules available online in September. New courses will have video and will “combine hard teaching and gaming”, Schuyler said. Games engage children and allow them to act out real life scenarios, which can help provide context, she said. Online course levels, aimed at kindergarteners through 12th graders, include lessons like “Creditworthiness” and “Saving matters” for students in grades 3 to 5, and “Building wealth and consumer fraud” for teenagers in grades 9 through 12.

The need for more financial literacy is great. According to a recent study by the Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development, American teenagers achieved mediocre scores in financial literacy (pdf) compared to other countries, ranking between eight and 12 out of the 18 nations tested. Worse, only 14% of American adults answered five out of five questions correctly on a 2012 financial literacy quiz. Only 17 states require high school students to take a personal finance course currently, and only six demand that students be tested on financial aptitude.

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