Within this branch, great interest is given to the area of children’s economic behaviour. A considerable number of studies are done on the understanding children have of various economic concepts. Existing literature is based within cognitive developmental theories and suggests that children pass through a series of stages before reaching an adult understanding of these concepts (Bonn & Webley, 2000). Researchers vary on the amount of stages required in this development, but there seems to be a general trend of summarizing the stages into three levels. First is no understanding, followed by understanding of some isolated concepts and finally linking of isolated concepts to full understanding (Furnham, 1996 in Bonn, Earle, Lea & Webley, 1999).
Developmental Psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with understanding changes human beings go though in their lifespan. Various domains of human development is of concern to these psychologist, such as physical, cognitive, emotional, social and moral development. For importance of this programme, is the area of cognitive psychology as it is concerned with the area of thought processes and intellectual abilities (Berk, 2000). The programme is based within this area as the aim is to introduce new concepts to the developing child in the hope that he/she will acquire this knowledge. Following is an overview of Piaget’s theory. The focus is on two areas of his studies, Piaget’s equilibration theory and stages of development.
Piaget’s equilibration theory states that when a child encounters a new object or concept which is foreign to their current understanding structures, an imbalance is created (Cohen & Kim, 1999). Adaptation is Piaget’s term to explain the individuals ability to adjust existing schemes to fit with the demands of the environment (Cockcroft, Hook & Watts, 2002). He defined the process of adaptation in the two concepts of assimilation and accommodation, in an attempt to explain how the individual deals with these new concepts. Assimilating is when individuals react to and interpret new incoming information in terms of their existing cognitive schemes. Information from the environment is therefore changed in order to incorporate it into existing cognitive schemes, but the existing cognitive schemes are not changed. Accommodation is the process through which existing cognitive schemes, and subsequently also cognitive structures, are changed in order to incorporate new incoming information from the environment. When accommodating, individuals transform their cognitive schemes to incorporate new inputs from the environment (Bringuier, 1980). A cognitive scheme is a mental representation of information. Schemes develop through automatic or inborn reflexes with the environment. Thus their brains transform the pictures they see in their environment into schemes. These schemes are influenced by their experience and own perspective of the environment and as they get older and develop their way of looking and understanding the world changes and so does their cognitive schemes (Bender, 2000). By teaching the child the understanding and comprehension of concepts and objects their view and how they interpret these objects change (Berk, 2000). Equilibration is thus achieved by incorporating new information into their cognitive schemes.
In terms of introducing economic concepts to the child this will then mean that when a child sees a red R50-note and does not know what it is and what it is used for, he/she will only see it as an object made out of paper, in a rectangle form that is red and he will compare it with other objects of these characteristics like the rectangular blocks that he/she plays with. According to Piaget’s theory children can only learn unintegrated concepts. By teaching them separate concepts one at a time it could later assist in teaching the child integrated concepts like income, expenses, savings and currency. The child is thus introduced to unintegrated concepts like coins or their father’s occupation and later is taught the link and integration of working for an income.
Piaget defined three types of equilibration: simple equilibration, reciprocal equilibration and equilibration of totalities. Cohen and Kim (1999) used the analogy of a filing cabinet to describe these three types. Simple equilibration would refer to a paper being filed or put away into a file or folder which is then rearranged to accommodate the new paper. In reciprocal equilibration, two folders are combined into a new folder or additional folders are created in order to deal with the increase in the complexity of the information. Hierarchical equilibration of totalities can be seen as the entire file cabinet being reorganized by means of a new system to classify and integrate the information (Cohen & Kim, 1999).
The programme aims to introduce economical concepts to children. According to the theory of equilibration of Piaget, this new information would cause an imbalance in the already existing schemes of the child. Through the process of adaptation the child would possibly change, elaborate on or develop new schemes to try and achieve equilibration again. Type 1 an Type 2 equilibration would be most applicable to the implementation of the programme. During the needs assessment test, two variables namely identification and understanding is taken into account. Simple equilibration would account for identification of an economic concept. If the child is faced for example with the picture of a R2 coin, he/she will identify the concept and file it into the appropriate scheme such as money. The understanding of this R2 coin being that it has value, can buy things, or be exchanged, can then refer to reciprocal equilibration, where the child would not see the R2 coin as a single object but integrate this with expenses, income or savings thus combining two different folders to develop a new folder.
Piaget stated that cognitive development takes place in various stages. The second stage is the preoperational stage which takes place between the ages of two and seven years. Piaget explained the young child in terms of what he/she can’t do. Accordingly Piaget stated that in this stage the child is not capable of operations. Operations are internalized mental actions that are reversible. These mental actions are necessary for thinking conceptually and logically and reasoning both inductively and deductively. Their thinking is rigid, limited, focused on one aspect of a situation and influenced by the present moment. These limitations exist because of egocentrism, the child’s inability to distinguish perspectives of other people from that of his/her own. This leads to animistic thinking, centration, perception-bound thought, irreversibility and focus on states rather than transformation (Berk, 2000).
Children’s ability to think operationally influences their ability to understand financial concepts. The children participating in this program are between the ages of three and six, and according to Piaget’s theory are in the pre-operational stage of cognitive development. Saving, income, expenses and currency are economic concepts that can only be completely understood by children who have developed the ability to think operationally.
Thinking conceptually is an important part, according to Piaget, of operational thinking. If a child is able to group things together based on the shared features of those things, then the child is thinking conceptually. An example of this is in connection with numbers. When a child can perform number operations like addition and subtraction and can identify whether one number is less or more than another is, the child is displaying aspects of conceptual thinking (Sugarman, 1987). An understanding of numbers and numerical values is closely linked with an understanding of economic concepts like saving, income, expenses and currency.
The economic concept, saving can simply be defined as leading to the accumulation of money. If a child is to understand this concept, he must know that numbers or amounts can be combined together to make bigger numbers or amounts. This understanding is characteristic of a conceptual level of thinking. Similarly, an understanding of the economic concept expense (which involves the loss of money) requires that the child know that numbers can be broken down into smaller amounts.
Piaget defined a concept of conservation which is gradually developed in the concrete operational stage, age seven to eleven. Conservation refers to the cognitive capacity of the child to judge changes in amounts through logical deduction rather than the basis of appearance (Cockcroft, Hook, & Watts, 2002). Currency can be seen as the conservation of an amount of money whilst the appearance might change. The R20 note can be exchanged for a $2 bill, the value is still the same, yet the appearance of the money has changed. For the child to make sense of the concept of currency, the child thus needs to have this ability of conservation. Also an understanding of the concept currency is related to knowledge about exchange rates. An example of basic knowledge that could be given to the children is that the type of money used in South Africa, is worth more right now than the type of money used in Zimbabwe. A child would be able to make sense of this information if he/she understood, (through a process of operational thinking) that certain amounts could be of more or less numerical value than others.
The economic concept income and expense are both concepts, which include the element of exchange. Exchange is dual a process of giving and receiving or gain and loss. Income for example, is the performance of tasks in exchange for money. Expense is payment (and loss of money) in exchange for goods or activities. In the pre-operation stage of development, children’s attention is focused or centered on one aspect of a situation neglecting the other features (centration). A child in this stage may therefore not fully understand the concept of exchange, and may focus on only one aspect of exchange like receiving goods, without focusing on the accompanying loss of money. Another limitation is that of focusing on states rather than transformations. The child shows the tendency to treat the initial and final states as completely unrelated. In dealing with expenses, the child would thus view the amount paid and the goods received as two states or separate entities, rather than integrating the two as an initial and final stage within a transaction.
Teaching the children about the name of the South African currency as well as the values of some of the coins and notes will be part of the lesson on currency. During the pre-operational period, the child’s ability to recognize and include symbols in games, speech and drawing is strongly developed (Cohen, 1983). Children in this stage of development should therefore be able to connect the word ‘rand’ and the picture of the lion featured on the fifty rand note for example, to physical paper money and coins. Piaget stated that the pre-operational stage is limited by perception bound thinking, and the child may be distracted by the concrete perceptual appearance of the object. The children within this stage would thus not necessarily see notes and coins in terms of their value but rather as concrete objects.
Therefore, according to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, the concrete operational period (which begins when a child is about seven years old) is the earliest point at which a child can think operationally and conceptually. Within the pre-operational stage though, Piaget made a distinction between two separate stages, the preconceptual and intuitive or transitional stage (Cockcroft, Hook & Watts, 2002). The preconceptual stage from two to four years refers to all the limitations discussed above. The transitional stage from five to seven years is a stage wherein the child becomes less egocentric and moves more towards the concrete operations stage. The children, for whom this programme is being developed, are between the ages of three and six, and still fall within the pre-operational stage of cognitive development. The distinction can be made though that these children are within the transitional stage, thus might not be as limited in their operational thinking as Piaget discussed, but could possibly already own some qualities of the next stage.
Piaget thus focused on the child’s cognitive development stating what happens when a child is approached with new information. The child incorporates this information into his/her cognitive schemes but this process takes place within the restrictions identified within each stage. For this programme, it seems to be important to identify where the information originates. The child in other words receives information from the external world, but why the child focuses on that specific information as opposed to various other stimuli should be identified. We, the authors have decided to focus on Super’s theory as a possible explanation to this process.
Super’s model of career development in children sees curiosity as a very basic drive. Jordaan (1963 in Sharf, 1997) provides a useful approach to the understanding of exploration and curiosity in children. He states that curiosity may develop when there are changes in an individual’s physical or social needs. Curiosity is often satisfied through exploration, an important career development activity. Curiosity can be seen as need and exploration behaviour. For children, play and playful activities are an expression of exploratory behaviour. Exploratory behaviour may benefit a child in helping the child learn as these exploratory activities lead to the acquisition of information.
It can thus be concluded from the above that children have a drive to be curious. For the success of the programme the children’s curiosity should thus be stimulated and directed towards the direction of economic concepts. This would lead to an exploration about the topic, which will eventually end in the acquisition of information about economic concepts. In future this information can play a valuable role in the adolescent or adult’s economic behaviour and a possible occupational interest might also spark from it although this is not the goal of the programme.
It is thus established how the child comes about the new information he/she is cognitively going to organize and adapt into existing schemes. The child can explore within their environment, home, school, peer and parental relationships. We can thus safely assume that the children involved in this program will, once they are curious, begin to explore economic concepts within various contexts. This behaviour, driven by curiosity surrounding economic concepts, could in summary be explained by what Kurt Lewin (in Orford, 1992) defined as the classic equation in psychology namely B = f (P, E). This stated that behaviour is the function of the person, the environment and the interaction between the two. In other words, a person’s behaviour is derived from three places, the individual's self, the external environment and then the interacting relationship between these two.
In terms of the programme we could incorporate all the above theory from Piaget and Super into this basic formulation. The human behaviour we are focusing on is that of the child, the exploration the child will do so as to serve the need of curiosity about economic concepts. The three components will be the child, environment and interaction. The child is viewed in terms of his/ her individual development. One facet of this development is the child’s development cognitively as discussed by Piaget. The environment can be defined as school, home and other environments the child is exposed to which influences the child. The programme aims at looking at the children in School X as part of a system whilst acknowledging that the child has specific individual cognitive abilities. The programme needs to be sensitive to all these aspects concerned so as to enable the success of the programme, which is an integration of economical concepts into the child’s cognitive schemes.
From a preliminary interview with the school’s principal it became apparent that a need does exist. From this interview it was noted that within the planned theme discussions with the children, economical concepts and money is not included. The interviewee indicated that the older groups like Grade 00 and Grade 0 children are exposed to money, but this is within a set goal orientated environment where the coins are used for mathematical activities like adding and subtracting or as counters in a maths game. As far as the interviewee can remember, no concrete economical theme has been introduced to the children. Despite this lack of introducing the children to economical concepts, the interviewee stated that due to the children’s socio-economic backgrounds, there might exist some understanding of these concepts amongst the children. The following relevant issues were raised:
There seems to be very little to no exposure of economical concepts within the school structure. Yet, the children at School X do have exposure to money in their homes. It was therefore deemed as important to assess what, if indeed any, prior knowledge already existed. This was done by means of a test developed for this specific assessment. To assess the impact of the programme it was decided to use a pre- and post-test design. This is done by giving the participants a test before and after the implementation of the programme. The results are then compared in order to determine whether there was an increase or decrease in the participants’ performance (Jolley & Mitchell, 2001). The success or failure of the programme can be determined by looking at the results obtained in the two tests and especially looking for any significant changes. The needs assessment that was developed was used in all instances as the assessment test.
A need assessment was developed in the form of a structured matching game. The assessment of the children’s knowledge was divided into two categories, identification and understanding. Firstly the child was observed on whether or not he/she could identify the economical concept. Secondly a set of structured questions was asked to check the child’s understanding of these concepts. A checklist in the form of a rating skill was used. For each of the pictures, the concept was added onto the list, to be checked by the observer. Twenty pictures in all were chosen. Each picture depicted some economic concept. The pictures were categorized into four groups; money (coins, notes, cheques, credit cards and currency symbols); income (parental figure at work, child doing chores and domestic worker); expenses (food, toys, till and shop); and savings (safe, piggybank, and ATM). The child was asked to match a card with the picture on it, to a bigger board containing all the pictures. To add more quality to this, the developers decided against simply checking whether the child did or did not identify the concept. Every picture identified was thus rated on a scale of two, one or zero based upon the child’s response to what the picture showed. A set of structured questions was asked to check the child’s understanding of the concepts he/she identified in the pictures. Eight questions was asked and the observer filled out the questionnaire for the child scoring him/her on the identification of the concept, writing down verbatim the child’s reply to each question. These questions were developed to further tap the child’s knowledge and concerned the concepts of: money ("Is a coin or note worth more?", "What do we use cheques and credit cards for?" and "What does currency mean?"); income ("How do people get money?" and "What things can people do to get money?"); expenses ("What do people spend money on?"); and savings ("Where do people save money?" and "Why do people save money?"). The scoring was as with the identification part done on a scale of two, one or zero. No assistance was given as to the correct answer. The programme is aimed at aiding a teacher in his/her preparation for a weeklong introduction of economical concepts to his/her Grade 00 or Grade 0 class. The programme is structured as a weeklong theme on economical concepts with the overall aim of this theme week being to introduce economical concepts to the children and ensure a gaining of knowledge concerning the concepts. The week is broken down into a theme a day; money, income, expenses, and savings. Each of these themes has been developed into a theme discussion, main activity, additional activities, a story and a letter to the parent/s. Additional to these is a section devoted to subject-related activities. Possible subjects or areas that already exist within the normal school day and structure are adapted to fit within the economical. Such activities included for example science, baking, mathematics, games, music, and outings. In addition a practical-life activity was included, which was run the entire week in order to emphasize the economical process.
A set of structured questions was asked to check the child’s understanding of the concepts he/she identified in the pictures. Eight questions was asked and the observer filled out the questionnaire for the child scoring him/her on the identification of the concept, writing down verbatim the child’s reply to each question. These questions were developed to further tap the child’s knowledge and concerned the concepts of: money ("Is a coin or note worth more?", "What do we use cheques and credit cards for?" and "What does currency mean?"); income ("How do people get money?" and "What things can people do to get money?"); expenses ("What do people spend money on?"); and savings ("Where do people save money?" and "Why do people save money?"). The scoring was as with the identification part done on a scale of two, one or zero. No assistance was given as to the correct answer.
The programme is aimed at aiding a teacher in his/her preparation for a weeklong introduction of economical concepts to his/her Grade 00 or Grade 0 class. The programme is structured as a weeklong theme on economical concepts with the overall aim of this theme week being to introduce economical concepts to the children and ensure a gaining of knowledge concerning the concepts. The week is broken down into a theme a day; money, income, expenses, and savings. Each of these themes has been developed into a theme discussion, main activity, additional activities, a story and a letter to the parent/s. Additional to these is a section devoted to subject-related activities. Possible subjects or areas that already exist within the normal school day and structure are adapted to fit within the economical. Such activities included for example science, baking, mathematics, games, music, and outings. In addition a practical-life activity was included, which was run the entire week in order to emphasize the economical process.
The programme was implemented during a week long period at the chosen school. The School is situated in an up-market suburban area in Pretoria. Facilities available are adequate and in an excellent condition. The sanitation, washing up and drinking water facilities are abundant. There are five classrooms, one for each age group, as well as five extra rooms serving purposes like a reading and computer class, a library with toys and books used within the school and a movement center. These classrooms are all clean, neat and supplied with sufficient education games, art supplies, toys and posters on the walls. In addition to these rooms a fully operating kitchen exists as well as three sanitation facilities. These facilities has been examined by the Department of Health and found to be up to standard. The playground has various big equipment for free play activities and lots of green grass to run on. The entire building and grounds are in a very good condition with no signs of physical breakdown like water leaks, broken windows or cracks in the walls.
The children come from middle to upper class homes. The programme reached the Grade 00 and the Grade 0 groups of the chosen school. In these two classes there was respectively 21 and 16 participating children. The gender ratio in the group was approximately 1:1 male and female with 19 male and 17 female participants. These participants are also representative of a variety of different cultures. The majority of the children come from a caucasian (white) English background. The additional 10 participants are represented by Afrikaans, African, Portugese, Indian and Hebrew participants.
These 37 children each underwent the pretest, implementation of the programme, posttest and the post-posttest. In the following paragraphs an in-depth overview is given of the test and its various outcomes.
In the pre-and post test two aspects were looked at in the participant’s responses: How accurately they identified certain economical concepts, and how accurately they understood certain economical concepts. A directional hypothesis was set that the program will enhance the way the participants identify and understand certain economical concepts.
A post-posttest was also administered to determine whether the knowledge that the children gained from the program was retained.
In the grade 0 group there were 16 participants and 21 in the grade 00 group. At the time when the posttest for the grade 00’s were done two of the participants where absent and their scores for the pre- and posttest will thus be excluded in this statistical analysis. Only 19 scores are thus included for grade00 in this analysis.
It was decided to use the nonparametric equivalent for the t-test for matched pairs, the Wilcoxon test to determine whether significant differences between the pre-, post-, and post-post test exists. The SPSS statistical program was used to do the Wilcoxon test.
The significant levels for both grades in "identify" and "understand" are small [0.000 <0.05]. This implies that there is a significant difference between the pre- and posttest for both grades in both "identify" and "understand". This supports the H1 that the pre-test identify< Posttest identify and pre-test understand< posttest understand for both grade 0 and grade 00.
The significant levels for both "identify" and "understand" in the grade 0 group and "understand" in the grade 00 were small [smaller than 0.05]. This implies that there is a significant difference between the pre- and post-posttest. This means that the knowledge the grade 0’s gained from the program was sustained for a period after the program was implemented.
The significant level for "identify" for the grade00’s was large [0.099>0.05]. This implies that there was no significant difference between pre- and post-posttest results for "identify". The knowledge for "identify" that the grade 00’s gained from the program was thus not sustained for a period of time after the program was implemented.
The significant levels for grade 0 "identify" and "understand" and grade00 "understand" were large [Larger than 0.05]. This implies that there was no significant difference between the post- and post-posttests. There was thus no further knowledge gained by the participants on the topic, but they also remembered what they learned from the program.
The significant level for grade 00 "identify" was small [0.0025<0.05]. This implies that there was a significant difference between the post- and post-posttest results. This means that the grade 00 participants forgot some of what they learned from the program concerning the "identify" of certain economical concepts.
Discussion of results
The program did indeed enhance the participants in both grade 0 and grade 00’s ability to identify certain economical concepts, as well as their ability to understand certain economical concepts. This enhancement was sustained for grade0 in both "identify" and "understand" and for grade 00 in "understand". The knowledge gained from the program was thus not short-lived but was remembered by the participants.
The grade 00 did however not remember all that they had learned from the program concerning the identification of economical concepts. This might be due to the participants' ages. The grade 00’s are younger than the grade 0’s and this may affect their interest in economic concepts, which will then also play a role in what they remember.
As the results seem to indicate, there was an improvement in the children’s understanding of economical concepts. Yet some still could not understand the most difficult concepts like currency and interest. Piaget’s theory explained this according to maturation. Only when they reach a certain age, will they be able to understand these concepts.
Further research needs to be conducted to determine how the programme should be adapted to meet the needs of low income communities. The implication is that a programme adapted to meet the needs of children from low-income backgrounds would be far better suited to the South African context in which middle to high income groups make up a tiny minority of the total population. A programme like this would have a far greater chance of empowerment in a low-income context. The children in these communities have got a far lower chance of one day attaining a tertiary level of education, so that success is likely to lie in the individual’s ability to think entrepreneurially. The concepts themselves may remain the same, but the way in which they are approached and the goals, the developers might change.
In the context of the socio-economic environment in which we were working, our goal was to develop a programme that would expand children’s curiosity to include the world of money. The programme developed also focused on empowering young children early on, so that one day they may mature into successful adults, equipped with the skills to run their own finances. Through exposing children to new ideas and experiences they would be naturally encouraged to develop an active interest in dealing with money. The programme’s developers anticipate and hope that the programme’s empowering potential will, through a process of trial and error, aid these young children who may eventually mature into successful adults, equipped with the skills to run their own finances.
In the context of the socioeconomic environment of South Africa, the goal of the research project was to develop a programme that would expand children’s curiosity to include the world of money. The programme also focused on the empowerment of young children so that they might mature into successful adults, equipped with the skills to skilfully manage their own finances. By exposing children at a young age to new ideas and experiences, they would be naturally encouraged to develop an active interest in dealing with money.
From the research findings, it seems clear that such programmes have the potential to influence children’s cognitive schemes around concepts of finance and economics in a positive way.
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