Saint Paul warned us that money is the root of all evil, but we all know we need money to live and to serve. Financial awareness and a healthy attitude to money contributes to a better lived life. Children first hear about money and naturally pick up patterns of financial behavior and attitudes at home. What is being done in the Jesuit school to prepare our students for the realities of money beyond the safety of their homes?
Education in Hungary is free, and families receive considerable support including free textbooks and subsidized school meals. The Fényi Jesuit school emphasizes that no child is left out, all the possibilities the school offers are available for all the students regardless of their finances or the lack thereof. This policy is supported and financed by the Hungarian Province and by donations from benefactors and friends through the Foundation for Jesuit Education.
20% of the student population of the school come from either quite poor or very wealthy families by Hungarian standards. The 80% in the middle covers a very broad spectrum ranging from families with a tight budget and vicarious lifestyle to prosperous business owners for whom consumerism and spending on pleasure comes quite naturally.
Physics teacher and mother of four, Mrs. Tünde Olajosné-Cseszkó teaches financial awareness to 5-6th graders. She talks about experiences with her own daughters and students:
“The younger children, even some 5th graders, since their capability to think abstractly is just starting to develop, understand money only as cash. Its purpose is to buy tangible objects and pleasure. Many think that a bank card is something magical, since mother can buy stuff even when she has no cash. This magical thinking about money is paired with their view of their parents as demigods or superheroes who are able to do everything. They do not think of the realities of earning, spending, not to mention saving.” Mrs. Olajosné-Cseszkó explains that as children mature, they gradually develop a more realistic view of money. “We, parents, try to protect our children and make life easy for them, that is why some of them stay in magical pony land for too long. Children often try to use the magic of money to strengthen their social status and friendships, not only by showing off with expensive possessions but also by sharing pleasure, like chocolate, drinks or giving smaller gifts to their classmates. It is easily disguised as generosity, and most often they are not even aware of their motives.”
Anna Németh math teacher enjoys bringing real-life situations into the classroom. “I try to teach them the practicalities of percentages, logarithmic or exponential equations and place these mathematical problems in real life context. But I noticed that even 9th graders, although know about money, there are considerable differences among them.” Mrs. Németh attributes this diversity to parental behaviour. “On the whole, all families, regardless of their financial means seem to do their best and even make sacrifices to support their children and buy whatever seems to be necessary for success in school and life.”
Mrs. Németh sums up the four basic parental behaviours that shape the childrens’ attitude to money. Parents most often just give money to the child whenever the child asks for it. These parents often believe that their children are reasonable and always discuss the need and the amount, but they also admit that their children never have the experience of not having money when needed. Fewer parents give pocket money every month that the child may spend or save as they like. Some of these children tend to save it all up even without a specific goal, just in case, or on the contrary, spend it all on candy or something fun, because they can still ask for anything they want, and their parents will buy it anyway. Some families use money as an incentive for the child to do better at school. They may reward good grades with cash. It also happens but quite rarely, that the child has to do chores or contribute to the family business for which he receives ‘wages’.”
“Our daughter does not have fixed pocket money, we give her what she needs, including the coins she puts in the offering basket on Sunday Mass.” says Mr P. father of two. “She also receives birthday money from grandparents and uncles. She is very frugal and sensible, but also practices generosity by giving to the poor at the Christmas collection.”
His daughter, 9th grader Maia would like to know more about money. “I already have a junior debit card where I save my birthday money. But my knowledge of financial matters is very little. I would like to learn more about this topic at school as well.”
Mr. Péter Polák vice principal believes that thanks to parental guidance and some formation at school students have a basic understanding of savings by the time they leave school, but they still need to be educated about financial possibilities, entrepreneurship and investment. “Ideally these skills would be embedded in the curriculum for each age group according to their level of understanding. We have a financial theme-week every year when teachers of various subjects are encouraged to use specially developed materials to promote financial awareness. We have household budget and money-themed lessons embedded in the 5-6th grade math program, and all math teachers at all math lessons are to remind their students that exponential equations are necessary to understand loans and interest. But it is certainly an area to further develop in our curriculum.”
Domonkos Kajtor SJ believes it is a real challenge for educators to successfully guide children toward a healthier attitude to material goods and money. “Parents and the school together ought to instill the four cardinal virtues into our youth, prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude, to drive their lives, including financial behaviour. We also have to familiarize them with technicalities like cash, plastic cards, balance sheets, virtual money. But that is not all. As our school is quite superior infrastructurally to other schools in the country, there is a danger that children who spend 8 years here from the tender age of 10 to 18 get used to the excellent circumstances, take all these good things for granted, and enter adulthood with a false sense of entitlement. They may be up for great disappointment unless we reinforce discernment, humility and gratitude, and the solid conviction that we are only curators of the material goods we have, and we receive all these gifts to serve others.”