In the 2008-09 school years, the Bank of Italy and the Italian Ministry of Education (MIUR) implemented an experimental programme to incorporate financial education into school curricula, in the last two years of each school level: Grades 4 and 5 in primary school, Grades 7 and 8 in junior high school and Grades 12 and 13 in high school. The programme was piloted in the school year 2008/09 on 631 students from 32 classes in three regions of the country. It was then made available nationwide, with the number of participating schools increasing every year. In school year 2011/12 the programme was implemented in 1.150 classes and financial education taught to 23 000 students.
Participation to the programme is voluntary, and financial education is introduced with a cross-curricular approach. Interested teachers receive training from Bank of Italy’s officials, focusing in particular on money and transactions. At the beginning of each school year, MIUR presents the programme and schools decide whether to participate or not, and which classes could be included. The Bank then supplies teachers with appropriate training and pedagogical resources.
The training, which includes lectures from specialists from the Bank of Italy, aims both at increasing the awareness of the importance of financial literacy and at developing confidence among teachers. In order to further assist teachers who might not be familiar with the matters, the Bank of Italy has developed pedagogic material tailored to the needs of the different age groups and relevant teachers’ guides.
As recommended by the INFE High-level Principles for the Evaluation of Financial Education Programmes (INFE 2011), the programme has included evaluation since its design. The evaluation focused on students’ knowledge, and was undertaken through tests administered to pupils before and after classroom teaching (Romagnoli and Trifilidis, 2013). An increase in financial knowledge was defined as the gain in scores or the difference in the percentage of correct answers between post-classroom teaching and preclassroom teaching tests. The tests were differentiated by school level for both effort and duration. Although the Bank of Italy-MIUR programme lacked a formal control group, having tests administered to all participants allowed the identification of specific subsamples to examine the robustness of the findings and knowledge retention over time.
The sample also allowed for the evaluation of longer-term retention of financial knowledge. Participants from 2011-12 could be split into two subsamples: those involved during the first year and those involved in the follow-up. Since the follow-up group had covered the core issue during the previous school year, pre-testing results on the core topic that were different from those of the peer group indicated knowledge retention.
Indeed, the continuing pupils showed significantly higher levels of knowledge than their coevals. As the tests were different from those of the previous edition, this was consistent with the fact that some of the information learned was retained after one year and it confirmed the effectiveness of the programme in increasing students’ knowledge.
The evaluation also allowed identifying a gender gap in financial knowledge. Testing prior to classroom teaching showed female students scoring lower than male ones in all age groups. This gap was reduced following classroom teaching. In the case of junior high-schools, female students scored better than male ones in the post treatment tests.
Given the robustness of the results obtained through the repeated evaluation of students’ knowledge, the Bank of Italy and MIUR have decided to momentarily suspend testing of students, in order to devote more resources to the teachers’ survey.