Today one thing is clear, those who know more tend to do better in a knowledge economy. In this environment, one could also say that “education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool,” for when you know better you tend to do better. But is that the end of the argument for education? Is education in and of itself the silver bullet solution? I do not think so.
In the United States of America, the largest economy in the world still, and arguably one of the most “educated” (one of our most significant imports into the U.S. these days frankly are college students from Asian countries), the high-school dropout rate is 30% for all youth and 40-50% for urban (mostly economically poor) youth. This is a business an American competitiveness issue. For if we don’t arrest this troubling trend, quoting my friend Marguerite Kondracke, CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, “the next group of under-performing assets will not be mortgage loans, but our children.”
These statistics don’t seem to make much sense until one suggests that we have lost “the relevancy factor.” In other words, no adult wants a mortgage or a bond to purchase a home; they want the home itself. It is aspirational. No one craves for an auto loan; rather they desire the benefits of the automobile itself. It is aspirational. And most kids don’t awake in the morning begging for an education, per se, but rather the benefits that education may bring. It is aspirational too.
I believe that kids in America, and many other OECD developed countries around the world, are dropping out of school, or not showing up in the first place, because we have failed to make education “relevant” to their futures. Building on this, I also believe that the way to make education relevant (in a free society), is to show young people how to succeed, prosper, how to do well, and even how to get rich (legally), if that is what they want to do.
That answer is financial literacy, free enterprise and capitalism, ownership, opportunity and entrepreneurship. It is about making education relevant, and tying that relevance to hopes, dreams, aspirations, opportunity, and a purpose and passion in and for life.
Recently Operation HOPE and Gallup, Inc. entered into a critically important partnership, launching the new Gallup-HOPE Financial Literacy Index, where we will seek to measure hope, engagement, well being and financial literacy, and its inter-connectedness one to another. OECD has just recently begun to do important work around “well being,” as has Gallup, and Gallup has already provided through research that “hope is a greater indicator of academic success and graduation rates that GPA (Grade Point Averages) or ACT scores in the U.S. That’s powerful. Even more telling, Gallup research found that approximately 50% of all youth were “hopeful” on average. Well, I believe this ties in directly with a 50% high-school dropout rate amongst urban, low-wealth youth who, I submit, are not (hopeful). And as I have said in my new book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), “the most dangerous person in the world is a person without hope.”
In the backdrop of this global economic crisis, I believe education is even more important today, particularly when it comes to empowering the poor and the under-served in developed and developing countries alike, but it also must become more practical to life, and thus again, more “relevant.”
I believe, in the backdrop of this global economic crisis that financial literacy is the new civil rights issue, the first global silver rights empowerment tool. For as I have said often of late, “if you don’t understand the language of money, financial literacy, and if you don’t have a bank account, you are just an economic slave.”
And when 70% of the American economy (still the largest in the world, and approximately 30% of the world economy) is driven by the consumer, financial literacy becomes a critical business issue as well.
I applaud OECD for making financial literacy part of its agenda for their annual Forum in Paris, where I am honored to be speaking this year, as I did in 2009. This said, I would encourage and push OECD to “do more,” expanding the very definition of what it means by financial literacy, to include empowerment.
We must build on financial education, to include financial literacy, and build on financial literacy to include financial capabilities (a term coined by the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Education Office), and from financial capabilities and financial capacity, to include the all important financial empowerment agenda. Because it is through the door of financial literacy that people will have the dignity to function and to take care of themselves, and protect their families, in this world (basic civil rights and social justice), but it is through the door of financial empowerment that we will actually nurture, inspire and create the next generation of entrepreneurs, small business owners and “self-employment projects,” that the world desperately needs.
Where will the next generation of jobs come from? The same place that the last generation of jobs came from – you and me, on fire with the power of a new idea, and the skills (through financial empowerment) to make it real.
OECD’s mission of education and financial literacy, and my mission of global silver rights, should both be focused on the same ultimate goal; “to make free enterprise and capitalism finally relevant to the poor, and finally work for the poor.” This is 21st century education that matters.
I would challenge OECD leadership to consider the following:
- Encourage OECD member countries to institute financial literacy as a requirement for all learners from elementary to high-school. Teaching financial literacy (the basic rules of how to operate and to function with dignity in a system of free enterprise and capitalism) should be as essential to a generation as teaching them how to operate an automobile.
- Encourage OECD member countries to follow the lead of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) in the United States, where she authored HR1325 in Congress, inspired by the work of Operation HOPE, requiring college students with student loans to also get a course in financial literacy. The bill would also require colleges and universities receiving federal funds to require a course in financial literacy.
- Encourage OECD member countries to give every youth the right to a basic (mainstream) bank account at birth, no different than them having the right to vote at birth. The 20th century was defined by democracy, but the 21st century will be defined by the economic era.