Taiwan primary school turns out finance whizz kids (Feature)
Jan 16, 2011, 2:26 GMT
By Jens Kastner, dpa =
Taipei (dpa) - In a school hall in central Taiwan, teams of students are grilled on the finer points of international finance. How should the canny investor respond to inter-Korean tensions? What does the US hurricane season do to the commodities market?
Their parents clap their hands to their heads and shout 'much too hard!' from the sidelines. The contestants in Washington Elementary School's Finance Olympics are, after all, only 12 years old.
But the pupils calmly reply that the military escalation makes it a good time to buy bonds, and that commodities tend to go up when hurricanes hit the United States.
'The key to success is understanding the economic contexts and the optimal structure of your own portfolio,' a composed Jiang Xiangzhou, 12, told the television cameras.
Washington Elementary School in the town of Taichung is leading a trend among Taiwan's private schools to take financial education beyond the traditional outing to the local bank, or getting one of its employees in for a day to show young savers how to use bank books and cash machines.
In several schools, 6- to 12-year-olds are taught to find their footing in the world's ever more hectic financial and stock markets, in a bid to make them shrewder investors than even their own parents.
And the move has met with approval from parents of children at Washington Elementary, who are mostly among the island's wealthier families and keen to ensure the financial competence of the next generation.
Most lessons take the form of specially designed games, which go much further than the classic board game Monopoly.
The decisions involved are not so much whether to put a house or a hotel on a property, but rather how to maximise portfolio gains whilst minimising exposure to the vagaries of politics, economics and natural disasters.
The Finance Olympics held in early December by the Washington school, named in reference to its American education style and emphasis on English-language teaching, were the first of their kind, in a country where schools often hold 'Olympics' in various subjects.
The event showcased the pupils' knowledge and skill, as 16 teams calmly answered questions which would probably have caused economics undergraduates to break out in a cold sweat.
The 'Olympics' received extensive coverage in the Taiwan media, sparking the interest of less privileged parents in preparing their own progeny for the future by teaching them about stocks and shares.
But opinions differ over whether to drop 6-year-olds straight into explanations of share value, investment funds and capital assets. It might be better, some say, to start with lessons on personal budgets, savings and bank accounts.
Only private schools have followed the ambitious example of Washington school to date, with the state sector's efforts limited to teaching basic personal finances such as how to use a cash machine.
The Education Ministry has said it is planning to introduce courses on foreign exchange and stock markets 'soon,' but only for secondary school, which pupils normally enter aged 13.
But waiting that long would be a missed opportunity for the children, said Luo Wen-gui, director of education systems at Washington and also one of the school's finance teachers.
Luo has appealed to parents and education policymakers to consider introducing financial education into the curriculum as early as possible.
'Even one lesson per week teaches the children much more than how to use a cash machine,' he said in a recent television interview, and can help pupils 'to understand exactly what's going on in the world.' Author: Jens Kastner
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