5 Considerations for Equitable Financial Literacy Instruction During COVID-19
by Katharine S. Wise
As if the world of financial literacy in adult education was not already multifaceted, COVID-19 has intensified these complexities by compelling the need to prepare for an array of circumstances. As educators, there is no option but to rise to the occasion and continue serving all learners who seek to increase their knowledge, even in a time where their personal and social resources may be more limited than before. With that in mind, I have identified five key considerations for how to effectively implement equitable financial literacy instruction during this pandemic that stays true to adult education principles and addresses new or amplified issues from the pandemic.
1. Get rid of any preconceived notions of who the typical learner is or should be.
Adult learners come from innumerable walks of life and enroll in financial literacy courses with various intentions and goals. In the United States, most contemporary financial literacy programs target their efforts towards either immigrants, college students, low-income individuals, or senior citizens (English, 2014). However, anyone can benefit from furthering their comprehension in finance-related topics and learning how to best utilize the resources available to them.
Additionally, we are currently in a time of widespread economic uncertainty, especially as related to this ongoing pandemic. As of December 2021, the U.S. unemployment rate hovered around 6.7% , and 4.9% in Virginia specifically (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). As such, many individuals and families alike have found themselves in financial situations that they never planned for or dreamed of being in. As educators, make sure to refrain from taking on a “placing blame” mentality (English, 2014) or attitudes that suggest that being in adverse financial situations is the fault of the learner, per negligence or illiteracy. Rather, be open to educating all interested parties and not assuming their background, circumstances, or reasoning behind taking a class.
2. Be diligent in the application of critical theory.
Well, “what exactly is Critical Theory”, you may ask.
English (2014) defines Critical Theory (CT) as a framework that “addresses major structural inequities [as raised by] issues of power, ideology, hegemony, and perspective” (p. 50). For adult financial literacy, this model speaks to how different social and systemic forces (such as class, ideology, power systems, race, and gender) contribute to the disparities between the levels of access to financial education and financial opportunities for different communities (and the subpopulations within) (English, 2014). Along with being open to serving a diverse student population, it is important to be meticulous when incorporating critical theory into financial literacy lessons. An effective application of the framework can deepen the learner’s understanding of financial literacy within a larger societal and political context (macro perspective), as opposed to viewing finance solely on an individual level (micro perspective).
For more information on critical theory, this article from ThoughtCo. provides a very useful and digestible explanation.
3. Create a comprehensive curriculum.
This is a call to provide instruction on fruitful financial behaviors, instead of merely offering vocabulary lessons. It is great for learners to be able to regurgitate the meaning of various financial concepts, however, would it not be better to help them devise action plans for translating their newly acquired knowledge into behaviors that will make reaching their financial goals more realizable? In this way, setting specific action-oriented learning objectives will serve learners well.
Way (2014) takes it a step further in suggesting that “approaches to financial education, which account for influences on financial behavior, in addition to financial knowledge, are likely to yield much more productive results” (p. 26). This relates to the aforementioned notion of teaching from both macro-level and micro-level perspectives. Learners want information that can be used, and thus lessons should be pertinent to their financial situations. However, demonstrating a connection between individual/family finances and various societal factors can help learners conceptualize how financial systems work and affect them both within their respective communities and on larger scales, such as the U.S. banking systems.
4. Incorporate technology.
Now this is going to be a long one, but bear with me.
COVID-19 has necessitated the capacity to use various forms of technology, but even before the pandemic, the world was becoming increasingly digitized. As such, technology can be integrated into financial literacy lessons in a multitude of ways:
- Modality: Perhaps consider offering hybrid courses with options for either face-to-face or virtual instruction and allowing learners to choose whichever mode best suits their learning preferences and life circumstances. This can alleviate learners’ anxieties about attending class in-person as the pandemic persists whilst ensuring their ability to nurture any changes within their domestic environment (such as alterations in work schedules, childcare, or transportation offerings).
- Class activities: Incorporating digital activities and virtual simulations into course curriculum can make the class environment both interactive and applicable to real world situations.
- Homework & outside research: Assigning post-session tasks that encourage learners to do some online research on their own can reinforce course teachings outside of regular meeting times, allow learners to tie homework to their individual interests/goals, and help them gain the confidence to take control of their learning. These concepts coincide with those outlined in self-determination theory (Way, 2014). (For more information on self-determination theory as it applies to education, the Center for Self-Determination Theory site can help.)
- Useful financial apps & online resources: Introducing adult learners to digital options such as banking and investment mobile applications/websites can be useful in everyday life and in their personal finance proficiencies.
There are two inherent ‘sub-considerations’ that come with incorporating technology into financial literacy education. The first is that educators must invest time in increasing their own digital competencies so that they are able to fully articulate the utility of the various technologies being used in curriculum. The second is that educators must be cognizant of what barriers are present that may limit a learner’s ability to access necessary course materials, especially in the event that learners cannot make it into the classroom (Collins & Holden, 2014). With that said, it may be useful to also provide learners with a list of local places they can go if they have limited access to a computer or a stable [and secure] Internet connection.
5. Make it attainable.
Outside of concepts and behaviors, financial literacy also includes mindset management. Many learners may hold negative connotations of money, especially if they come from a low-income household or if they are presently in an adverse financial situation (Way, 2014). This may be linked to having a scarcity mindset (Morris, 2020) or low self-efficacy (Way, 2014). In either case, educators should work to change this mentality in their students. Situations may be daunting, but that does not denote permanence. Acknowledge that their desire to acquire greater financial literacy is a critical step towards changing present circumstances and for achieving financial goals.
The world may have forever been rattled and altered by this pandemic, but there is still the opportunity (and definitely the need) to cultivate a space for equitable and applicable financial education.
Collins, J. M., & Holden, K. C. (2014). Measuring the impacts of financial literacy: Challenges for community-based financial education. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2014(141), 79–88. https://doi.org/10.1002/ace.20087
English, L. M. (2014). Financial literacy: A critical adult education appraisal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2014(141), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.1002/ace.20084
Morris, M. H. (2020). The liability of poorness: Why the playing field is not level for poverty entrepreneurs. Poverty & Public Policy, 12(3), 304–315. https://doi.org/10.1002/pop4.283
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, January 26). State employment and unemployment summary. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.nr0.htm.
Katharine Wise, MBA, is a Richmond, Virginia native. She is a University of Virginia (UVA) and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) graduate and is currently undergoing her doctoral journey in educational leadership from VCU. She works for the Capital Region Adult Education Program with Richmond Public Schools.