The Program in Public Schools
Financial education cannot be restricted to rich or middle-class children. The poorer side of the population is exactly the one
that should receive priority in this regard. People who are extremely poor
should learn right away how to earn, spend and save money.
The Financial Education Program that I created is in place in several schools in the country and fortunately has always been a great success. But, of all the applications the program has had, one is very special to me.
A few years ago I received a phone call very early in the morning. As soon as I answered I heard an anxious outpouring of emotion, the kind that skips pauses and commas, telling a story that I now share with you.
The person speaking to me was Maria Inês, a teacher in a public school in the outskirts of Presidente Prudente, in the state of São Paulo. She was teaching the first grade. Two months before our conversation, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo had devoted generous space to promoting the Financial Education Program.
Maria Inês read the story. And, with her 30 years´ experience as a public teacher, she assumed it wasn´t fair - and indeed it wasn´t - that her students shouldn´t have access to the principles of financial education. From then on, at her own risk, without any input from me, she began to act.
From what she understood of the story, she suggested that the students create a common "savings account" for all of them and established a purpose for this effort. Someone suggested, and everyone else agreed enthusiastically, that the money should be spent in the fulfillment of an old dream: going to McDonald´s.
For middle-class children it would seem ridiculous that this should be the deepest desire of those students. After all, there are many children who are used to demanding such treats from their parents, assuming that getting what they want right away is part of the natural rights children are entitled to. And these parents don´t even realize how much they are fostering ingratitude and lovelessness by spoiling their children.
But life is quite different in the outskirts of Prudente. There were two months of collecting coins found by chance and selling aluminum cans. And although their original plan was to eat sandwiches, the amount collected was not enough for that. But it was all fun - and everything is fun when you work towards achieving your goals - so a sensible adjustment to the budget would not undermine the group´s morale. They settled for some ice cream.
Upon arriving at the place, they rushed to wash their hand, excited at the prospect of such a long-awaited moment. To the teacher´s surprise, when they entered the restrooms, they almost forgot what they had sought to achieve. They were so mesmerized by the tiles, the tap, the sink the floor, there was so much beauty that they did not want to leave. Most of Maria Inês´ students have no bathroom at home. That´s what made everything look so precious.
This had happened on the day before that phone call. Ever since then, Maria Inês´ students kept saving and continue to choose and achieve new goals for their money. It´s amazing what a talented and interested teacher can achieve. And to think that these small children have learned something that will make a difference for the rest of their lives: achieving your goals requires determination, planning and perseverance. With this, anything is possible. Anything can turn out right.
I hear similar stories from teachers all over the country. And every time I hear these stories I´m even more convinced that the solution to the severe problems of our people involves education. And that´s all it takes for our people to make everything else possible so that everything can finally begin to work.