Education International
Education International

Ending the cycle of poverty: Empowered children are key to economic injustice

published 10 September 2008 updated 10 September 2008

Educators everywhere strive to give children the knowledge and skills to become self-reliant, fully-engaged citizens. But, despite their best efforts, the cycle of poverty often continues through the generations.

Aflatoun, an Amsterdam-based network of organisations, aims to change that through a creative program of child social and financial education. Their dream is to create new generations of children whose economic self-reliance and sense of social responsibility enables them to be the drivers of a more resilient and equitable global society—a society that has broken the cycle of poverty.   The original inspiration for Aflatoun came from the streets of Mumbai, where social worker Jeroo Billimoria saw firsthand how a lack of basic knowledge about rights, responsibilities and finance is at the root of economic and social inequality. Now executive director of an international organisation that touches the lives of 240,000 children in 18 countries, Billimoria dreams of taking their message to the global level. In discussions with EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, she expressed the desire to work not only with NGOs and micro-finance operations, but also with teachers’ organisations to promote child social and financial education as part of the core curriculum in schools around the world. Billimoria says that the vision of Aflatoun is “the empowered child as an agent of change.” Wherever she goes, she is deeply impressed by the teachers and their commitment to their students. “I am moved by the tremendous motivation of the teachers, even though they so often face such severe limitations in terms of resources,” she said. The Aflatoun program is centred on five core elements: 1.Personal understanding and exploration Children investigate their own personal values. Through exploration of citizenship ideas and ongoing interaction with peers, each choose the values that they feel are right for them. Financial ethics are explored and children learn the importance of balancing financial skills with the judgement to use these skills responsibly. 2.Rights and responsibilities Aflatoun is grounded in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), which identifies four sets of interdependent rights. Responsibilities go hand in hand with those rights and children learn about their responsibilities towards themselves, their family, the environment and their community. 3.Saving and spending Financial empowerment hinges not only on constructive personal value systems, but also on specific, practical skills.  Children learn how to save and how to spend in a responsible manner. 4.Planning and budgeting Financial empowerment is achieved when children use their saving and spending skills to maximise their life choices. For example, a consistent savings habit can enable a child to stay in school for longer when payment for education is required. 5.Running small-scale social and financial projects Children are encouraged to view themselves as active participants in and shapers of their community. Through managing community activities or entrepreneurial enterprises children begin to see how they can have a positive impact on their community. These core elements are elaborated in a series of eight workbooks, designed for children aged 6-14. The classroom activities involve lessons, games and songs, with an emphasis on learning as fun. The children create their own savings system and undertake social campaigns, such as anti-smoking or pro-recycling initiatives. The classroom materials were originally designed for use in India, but since then have been adapted for different cultural contexts. Aflatoun found it necessary to include HIV/AIDS in the materials for Africa, while European partners wanted more on financial literacy in an age of credit cards and internet purchasing, while Latin Americans asked for more focus on citizenship education to emphasize democratic principles. At present they are also working on an Arabic-language version. For more information, please visit: www.aflatoun.org This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 27, September 2008.