A couple of years ago, I realised two things. The first was that the majority of my secondary students had very little or no financial literacy. The second was that many were disengaged with a school behaviour management system of merits and demerits that was neither visual or tangible.
After hours researching behaviour management systems and free rewards, I decided to solve both problems with one solution, and introduced a classroom economy.
In a classroom economy, students spend and earn “money” as they wish throughout the school day. For instance, being a book distributor can earn a “weekly salary” – and if they demonstrate model behaviour, they can earn bonuses. You could also require students to pay “monthly rent” on school equipment like a desk, or allow them to purchase rewards like a homework pass, or an opportunity to sit next to a friend.
It can work at any age or key stage and in any subject, though, as with all school behaviour systems, it works best as a whole-school approach. Through experiential learning, all students develop the crucial skills of saving, spending wisely and budgeting, which, in turn, gives them greater autonomy over their school day.
Why is this needed? Well, research shows that while children as young as 7 begin to develop financial behaviours, over a quarter of parents lack the confidence to explain key monetary concepts to their children. With the curriculum already overloaded, a classroom economy is a great way to embed financial education into regular classroom routines.
Not only does classroom economy give students more awareness of the value of “money”, but it also helps them to become better deep thinkers and problem solvers. Some of my students earn their "money" and then each week spend it on a reward of listening to music while working, or the chance to sit next to their best friend. Others realise the potential of their savings, banking their salary for months until they have enough to buy their desk and then they no longer have to pay rent, instead being able to save all of their "salary". The creativity and possibilities of where the classroom economy can go are endless.
So how did I implement the classroom economy for our school? What was the reaction from other teachers, pupils and parents? And what impact has it had?
Financial education: Introducing a classroom economy
Step one: the design
The first thing I did was research around, and then design, my system. I wanted it to be eco-friendly, efficient to administer and, most importantly, I wanted it to be visible for students.
For my older students who would soon be at college or university, having to budget for themselves, I wanted it to look and act like a bank account, and therefore created an automated system using Google Sheets. Students were given a “credit card” that had a QR code for them to scan and then they could track their earnings and deductions.
Step two: assign jobs
When I first introduced the Bank of Miss Amy, students were desperate to begin their jobs and start earning a salary. Pupils applied for jobs through a Google Form, where they were required to demonstrate their suitability for roles, developing their own self-efficacy. Even students who didn’t have fluent levels of English understood the concept of money and, overall, the reaction was very positive.
Each term I have let students switch jobs and because my system is set up on Google Sheets it was easy to add different rewards and fees as they have occurred in class, tailoring the system to suit the needs as they emerge.
Step three: incorporate it into existing systems
I made sure the economy supported and incorporated the whole-school system of house points already in place – for example, house points simply equal “money” in your bank account. I also ensured that other teachers knew how to work the Google Sheet, and – keen to tackle the low-level behaviour issues in their lessons – they were happy to give it a go.
Parents, too, were keen on the idea – and the bank account was a really useful reference for parents' evenings. I could show parents all the positive things their child has done to earn money, as well as the not so positive things they may have done to incur a fine.
The impact of a classroom economy
So what impact has it had? Well, it’s been going really well for three terms now.
The students quickly got into the habit of completing their jobs at the beginning of the lesson and soon started asking to spend their money. They were slightly shocked when they wanted to borrow an iPad charger and they learned that it would cost them “money”.
The impact on students behaviour, problem-solving skills and financial literacy has been amazing. In the future, I’m hoping to be able to roll out a whole-school economy system and perhaps even tie in the virtual money with the school’s charitable responsibilities so students can have the option to use their “money” to also help others.
If someone was looking to introduce something similar, my main bit of advice would be to start simple. Begin by introducing the concept of jobs, a salary and rent and see how that goes for a term. Once students are secure with the idea of earning and spending you can then think about bringing in more concepts like tax and interest. The more capable the students are, the more complex the system can be.
Amy French is an international learning support and humanities teacher at St Christopher’s School, Bahrain. Find her on instagram @adventureswithmissamy