A survey has revealed high school students want the opportunity to learn skills like mindfulness and personal finance after it was revealed Level One accounting will be combined into a general commerce subject

First they came for Latin.

Then it was classics and art history.

Recently, it has been revealed NCEA Level One Accounting will be combined into a general commerce subject along with economics and business studies in a move teachers are calling sad and disappointing.

A recent survey of more than 2000 high school students has shown many of the students are joining the teachers in their dismay – they want more variety, and the opportunity to work on skills using psychology and personal finance.

The survey, conducted by online learning platform LearnCoach, found just over a third of students want more variety in subjects, while just over a half wish mindfulness or psychology-based modules were offered as a part of the curriculum.

But the clearest schism between what students want and what schools will provide looks to be in the realm of personal finance – a subject called for by more than 45 percent of students, just as NCEA Level One Accounting bites the dust.

LearnCoach CEO Dave Cameron says getting students ready for the next step in their lives is an important role of the high school curriculum.

“High school is a challenging enough time with gaining credits and navigating a constant flow of internals and exams,” he said. “It’s vital that schools can equip their students with the right skills for their next short-terms step – but also to prepare them with life skills for adulthood.”

He sees the move away from accounting as risky, with New Zealand students’ numeracy rates dropping across the board.

“New Zealand’s Year 9 students are ranking 23rd out of 39 countries. If we remove subjects such as accounting, it can have a detrimental effect on students wanting to start their own business, alongside setting them up with everyday skills such as KiwiSaver, doing their taxes, understanding loans and basic budgeting skills.”

LearnCoach CEO Dave Cameron (left) says reducing the role of accounting in schools may hinder young Kiwis’ futures in the business world. Photo: Supplied

The Ministry of Education, however, says students were an important part of the consultation process it embarked on when thinking about making these changes.

During the NCEA review in 2018, it established ‘feedback hubs’ at 13 schools and kura in order to canvass the opinion of students, teachers and other members of the school community.

“Ākonga/learners are at the heart of everything we do,” said a spokesperson from the ministry, adding that the combined commerce subject will aim to give business studies, economics and accounting equal weight.

It has also made changes since the initial consultations, saying “recent feedback from teachers, students and the community has led the Commerce SEG to further strengthen the financial literacy components of the new subject”.

But high school teachers like Joanne Aberhart say it’s not as simple as bundling the three subjects together. “They are three completely different subjects,” she said.

Brooke Roberts, co-founder and CEO of investment company Sharesies, says financial knowledge and access for the young will play a pivotal role in building a better Aotearoa.

“These rangatahi are looking at skyrocketing house prices and low interest rates from banks and aren’t able to vote to impact this, making them understandably anxious about their future wealth,” she said.

“We’ve seen great uptake of investing in Kiwis from all walks of life since Covid-19, but having the understanding of money and access to financial learning at an early age will positively impact on them personally, on their community and ultimately on our society as a whole.”

Roberts remembers in her first year studying business at university, the accounting course had a “terribly low” pass rate.

“From memory, it was around 40-60 percent,” she said. “These were smart kids, choosing to get a business degree and struggling simply because of a lack of access to financial knowledge during their formative years.”

Another survey, this one held last year by the Commission for Financial Capability, suggests this may bear out to the present day – young people were found to have the lowest financial knowledge and understanding of any age group.

The Ministry of Education said it has created the School Leaver’s Toolkit in anticipation of such concerns. This online platform aims to give young Kiwis advice and resources for navigating life after school, including building on financial literacy.

“The School Leavers’ Toolkit provides a wealth of information on areas such as budgeting, credit cards, borrowing money and KiwiSaver,” the ministry said. “If this critical financial literacy were held and delivered only within a specialised NCEA subject such as accounting then it would have been accessed only by a small proportion of students, whereas it is important learning for all.”

But the students aren’t the only ones asking for a greater focus on financial literacy – a petition by high school teachers calling to preserve NCEA Level One Accounting as its own separate subject and has amassed 1576 signatures.

The move to combine the commerce subjects worried Charlotte Evett of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) that important skills may be lost.

“Young people these days are bombarded with things like afterpay and student debt – there’s lots of opportunity to fall into a debt trap,” she said. “[Accounting] helps them make informed decisions.

Cameron hopes the survey results will allow parents and teachers to better understand what young people want.

“It’s important for parents and teachers to gain a better understanding of their children and students,” he said. “Whether that be how they interpret external pressures, or their visions beyond high school.”

The study also showed four out of 10 students have changed their career plans as a result of Covid-19.

The study was designed to be launched a year on from lockdown, and is intended to be conducted on a yearly basis to track how Kiwi students are coping with the nascent post-Covid world.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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