What Schools won’t Teach – Financial Literacy

Take some moment to digest this.

Education in Singapore is undeniably superior. Being one of the best education system in the world (as rated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2015), students here are highly focused on being taught specific problem-solving skills and subjects, in a highly-scripted classroom environment. The curriculum ends off with tests and exams which tightly revolved around it and are extremely important to progress in life.

Singaporean students are especially proficient in math and the sciences. The average 15-year-old is 10 months ahead of students in western countries for English and 20 months ahead in math. We also score among the best on international exams.

Lee Kuan Yew, our first prime minister’s strategy was “to develop Singapore’s only available natural resource: its people”. Over a period of 50 years from a low skill labor-driven market (after 1965 independence), the government managed to succeed in an incredibly advanced education system, whose graduates went on into highly skilled jobs.

But that is the flaw. Schools only teach you how to be a “very good” employee – in terms of technical knowledge. We don’t see very much attention geared towards boosting innovation and economy. No one in schools teaches you how to setup your own business, or start off as a self-employed, or even to carry out your own investment. Not in the curriculum. Not one person.

Being an Employee

When you work for an employer, you are working for your income. There is only so much one can advance in the corporate ladder. Like it or not, there is a ceiling to both your career and income level, as defined by your Current Estimated Potential (CEP). You could attempt to upgrade your paper qualifications, your skill sets and more importantly, your relevant experience. But it is not guaranteed as well.

No leverage. Yet at the end of the day, there is no leverage on your part to earn more than 100% of a single person income.

Being a Self-employed

Being very similar to an employee, but slightly better. You are still earning 100% of a single person income, but having a bit more leverage on time. The more number of working hours or effort you put in, the higher the reward level.

Slight leverage on time. This is especially true if numbers are important for you, as the more time you spent on meeting clients, closing cases, solving problems etc., the more you earn.

I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts

Being a Business Owner

You start to scale up where it is no longer a one-man show. You have a system to employ staff to take up the lower-value work in the value chain, or experts to take on the roles that you are less adept at.

Leverage on people. Less of your time is spent scheduling time to meet with your clients (secretary), or managing your account statements (accountant), or customising your website (IT designers) and so on. You delegate work, and perform the higher-value work that you are there for.

Being an Investor

Investing makes money works for you. Not everyone cuts out to be a business owner or self-employed. It is also most unlikely to work your way up to millionaire status on pure income alone unless you have a high salary. Investment is one of the few ways that the common folks like you and myself beat inflation, build up our retirement nests or just for the plain simple reason of building up our wealth.

Leverage on money. But this is one area that the education system does not focus on. Trust me, the investment club or entrepreneurship club that exist in your schools – they probably have one of the lowest enrollment numbers out of all the clubs.


Have you taken some time to digest it so far? As adults, I daresay one of the pet peeves we have when we look back is why didn’t we learn how to invest properly, or why didn’t schools actually teach financial literacy (FinLit) etc.

It is still not too late, there is time. It doesn’t hurt taking even maximum 30 mins of your time daily to read up on financial news, investment wiki to understand new financial terms, reviewing your investment portfolio, asking questions on the various social media platforms.

FinLit takes time and effort on your part. For parents with children, do your part as well. Whatever that is not taught in schools, is taught at home. Set a good example. Set a role-model for your children to follow. Educate them on simple financial concepts when they are young to interest them. Bring them on board early in life.

Let us not wait too long and regret about our financial circumstances, much later in life. If all it takes is the present to kickstart, let’s just do it, now.


5 thoughts on “What Schools won’t Teach – Financial Literacy

  1. Finlit or personal finance is more of a mindset & way of life rather than just a set of skills and knowledge. It’s like behaviour & respect for self and others. That’s why they don’t really teach in schools. Documented teaching of finlit in other countries have shown that it doesn’t really work.

    It’s definitely much more than being able to do financial maths, work a Bloomberg terminal, analyse company financials, and read the Edge & WSJ daily. Many (I will say most) CFAs are no better at investing than non-CFAs.

    Lastly regarding employment salary, apart from unique & high-demand individual skills e.g. top surgeons and corporate lawyers, most higher earners climb through EQ, network, and leveraging on other people. It is less about individual work & more about envisioning, planning, leading, motivating, pushing, goading to get bigger things done and bigger results.


    1. I totally agree with you. It’s like being “street smart” versus “book smart”. A professor in Marketing may not be any better than a marketing manager who does the process day in and day out as well as apply creativity in his works.

      For the second, it is true that one can only progress so much with a single income, in normal circumstances. Successful professionals have to go beyond their domain knowledge to progress even further. There is only so much a specialist can progress as well.


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