Do you remember that Pythagoras theory you were taught in high school? Me neither.
Throughout the years Kiwis spend in classrooms, it’s fair to say there’s a lot of the schooling curriculum that goes in one ear and out the other. However, one topic that gets brought up time and time again is the fact that financial literacy – a crucial life skill – isn’t taught in schools.
In fact, the most children might interact with money in their younger years is when they discover some coins under their pillow from the tooth fairy, which isn’t exactly the best grounding for budgeting later in life.
When 27-year-old Brittany Teei’s professional tennis career ended, she decided wanted to do something to help kids learn about money from an early age and build self-confidence in their decisions.
She had spent a lot of time in classrooms due to her Mum Teri being a teacher and saw how children hailing from Maori and Pacific Islander backgrounds, like herself, were often at a disadvantage due to being at the lower end of the income spectrum.
“For communities from my cultural background, financial education isn’t the norm and a lot of the offerings out there didn’t address the cultural issues and barriers we face,” she says.
So Teei founded KidsCoin – an online education platform using a mock currency called ‘KidsCoin’ that teach kids, as well as their relatives, good money habits from an early age.
“The big idea [behind KidsCoin] is all about financial empowerment for our communities,” she says.
“It’s important for kids to learn about money when they’re young, because it’s kind of like riding a bike. If you learn how to ride the bike or how to swim, as you get older, it’s second nature. Money is something everyone has to deal with, whether you have a lot of it or you don’t have any of it. By building the right foundations and those habits and mindsets in the kids while they’re young, it sets them up to have those skills.”
But she says the most important aspect of KidsCoin is it isn’t just a crash course in how to do tasks like paying taxes. Instead, she says it creates cultural change by empowering people to be confident enough to make informed choices when it comes to money, rather than feeling overwhelmed or out of their depth.
“My initial focus was on my own communities and it’s a different skillset they need to learn: self-worth, as in ‘I can, I do have the ability, if I put in some work and have some opportunity, doors will open, but I have to put in the work.’ If we just gave them money, they’re not learning their own power, so this is a way of restoring that mana and helping them recognise their own abilities through engaged learning.”
Kidscoin provides a way for kids to experience the ‘lifecycle’ of money in a safe learning environment, Teei says. Through the platform, kids take part in educational quizzes tied into numeracy and literacy curriculum and when they answer questions correctly, they’re rewarded with the mock currency.
But it’s not just finances gamified – they also have to pay taxes, can harness their savings and earn interest, and take out a loan. A rewards store lets the kids cash in their hard-earned virtual dollars to buy real experiences, such as a tennis lesson with a coach. It’s hoped that these teachings will guide the kids away from falling into poverty traps later in life.
Teei says she’s had people tell her KidsCoin should eventually progress to giving children actual money, but she says that’s not the point.
“it’s empowering because you’re building your skills, putting in hard work and feeling like you can earn money without having the hang-ups associated with real money.”
Another unique part of the software is it’s designed so that parents and grandparents of the children can also come on the educational journey and experience their own learnings about money.
“When you’ve got a 75-year-old kaumatua working with his or her grandchild and they’re having epiphanies around saving or digital education, there’s something really beautiful and powerful in that,” Teei says.
The software costs $5 for each child, while the company makes money from partnerships with corporate businesses who want to offer something to the kids. For example, Teei says if Air New Zealand wants more Maori and Pacific people to be in their digital and tech teams, KidsCoin works with them to tailor content around this and encourage students to check it out as a career option.
KidsCoin also works with social service providers and Iwi to try address key issues in these communities. Looking ahead to the future, Teei says they’re looking to expand the business in terms of staff and tech capabilities. A few school in the US are already piloting the technology to see if it fits in with their curriculum, while she has been approached from social enterprises further abroad who are also interested in the software.
And given the international interest, it looks like KidsCoin’s idea is right on the money.