Managing money is a life skill, and there are no age limits to learn life skills.
Last weekend, the MF project collaborated with a Mumbai-based NGO, Hamara Footpath, to teach underprivileged kids about money and finance. This was the first time that we held a financial literacy session for children. Hamara Footpath, whose volunteers have been teaching street children in Mumbai for over 18 years, is not new to using novel methods to teach life skills. In the past, they have been instrumental in sending educated youngsters for internships in companies in Mumbai to build their employability skills and expose them to the world outside of books. “On-the-job training is much better than rote learning. And sometimes, school curriculum can be quite irrelevant,” says Taha Jodiawalla, founder of Hamara Footpath.
We held the session for children in the age group 13 to 18 from the southern slums of Colaba and Churchgate. Their parents work as helpers or hawkers in these slum areas, many having their own little businesses such as selling chai and newspapers or having their own bicycle repair store. Our session revolved around the basics of banking, payment systems and Aadhaar. Our objective was to teach them about the core concepts of money and transactions – and the above three form the pillars of these core financial concepts.
The experience was thrilling! They were highly aware of the things they saw around them – Aadhaar card, debit card, ATM or names of the banks in the vicinity of their slums or schools. However, they lacked the basic knowledge of how these worked. “How do the swiping machines detect the debit card? How does it know its mine?” The magnetic strip and the chip hold each person’s information that the swiping machines read to debit the amount from your account. “Mobiles can be bought on EMI, but what exactly is EMI and why do we need to do a down-payment?” It is a loan to be repaid in monthly instalments where down-payment is the first instalment to be made immediately. Essentially, they knew what they saw, but not what processes worked behind them. Our goal was to make them understand how each of these segments function and combine together to support a huge banking ecosystem.
Apart from the traditional financial concepts of banking (including deposits, loans and an overview of the Indian banking system), we also taught them new-age concepts of mobile wallets and Aadhaar card. Again, while they knew what Paytm was thanks to its widespread advertisements, they did not know the concept of mobile wallets. When we explained how mobile wallets work, their linkage to bank accounts and verification technology, and how they can use this knowledge in daily life to conduct transactions, they were happy to have finally understood one of the latest technological innovations.
The kids were extremely inquisitive. Learning about practical topics was surely exciting for them than learning a math formula or English grammar. They frequently asked us their doubts on the new information they received from us, which lengthened our session to two hours from the allotted one hour. But they did not learn enough from a single session – they had plenty of unanswered questions. “What is leasehold property bhaiyya? Can you tell me more about insurance didi?” they said when we were about to bid goodbye. We promised to hold more such financial literacy sessions for them!
Failure is common for these children – most students have failed in at least a few subjects in their schools or colleges. When asked to introduce himself, a boy jokingly said that he was in the 20th grade because he had failed 10th twice! The fact that the kid and all his classmates laughed hard at this joke shows how lightly they take failure in education. So we have decided to take it upon ourselves to foster their financial curiosity and to ensure that they never fail themselves when it comes to the vital skill of managing money.
We are only getting started on this challenging but exciting journey!
(contributed by Saloni Sheth and Vidhurath Venkatesh)