Juni Learning and Bloom announced Tuesday that the two online learning platforms are partnering to offer students real-world financial education in recognition of April being financial literacy month.
For the month of April, Juni Learning's Money-Minded course, "Investing in the Stock Market," will be free for anyone who wishes to participate. Additionally, the top three students will win $500 to start their investing journey. And, Bloom will offer students $5 for opening an account through its platform.
The Money-Minded course covers about 20 to 30 hours of content and can be taken at a student's own pace. The course teaches students the basics of investing using a stock market simulator. At the end of the course, the three winners will be able to apply their knowledge and purchase actual stocks through their own Bloom account.
"Our mission at Juni is to prepare everyone for the real world," Vivian Shen, Juni Learning co-founder and CEO told ZDNet. The company's courses were created to give late elementary students through high school the knowledge many schools don't offer.
Few schools offer financial literacy courses, so Juni Learning seeks to bridge that gap and give students the necessary tools to navigate the financial world. In addition to courses students can take at their own pace, the online learning hub offers -- through a subscription -- private courses for more complex concepts, like long-term analysis of companies planning to go public.
"We start out with, 'Let's talk about the basics, what is interest, what are the different ways to earn interest, how does risk factor into that,' and then we start to layer on more, such as, 'Let's evaluate certain companies and their financial statements,' Shen said.
The courses build upon basic financial knowledge. They begin with topics like income, income streams, and how to budget. Courses move on to concepts like the difference between working for yourself and working for a company and how much of your money you can put toward safe return investments as well as riskier plays.
"[Juni Learning is] trying to give kids a broader understanding of the mechanics of how money works, and an understanding of the value of different kinds of investments and what the performance of a company might look like," Shen said.
As it stands, the American education system could do more by adding financial wellness topics into curriculums. Very few schools offer classes that support their student's future financial wellness. The reasons for this, Shen said, aren't always benevolent.
"There are definitely some nefarious reasons, right? For example, if you are a student loan provider, you're not incentivized to educate people about what they're signing up for. So there's that, and then if you're a university or a college, you're usually incentivized to try to get people in where they can, but also still commit to a loan and matriculate," she said.
Financial wellness courses in schools can help students make these big decisions -- like choosing student loan terms -- a smoother process. The more educated students are, the better set up they'll be for success and can avoid unfavorable terms that could lead to a lifetime of debt. But getting these types of courses integrated into curriculums is easier said than done. As it stands, it's mainly up to the individual.
"Right now, it does very much feel like we're on our own as individuals to teach ourselves, which isn't right," Shen said. At the district, state, and federal levels, we could do with better policies to get financial literacy into the classrooms. But for now, it falls mainly to the teachers and the parents.
"At the parent level it's about educating themselves first, and then bringing that to their kids. And even with teachers; some of the teachers I've talked to don't fully understand their pension systems. For example, how long-term investing directly in the stock market differs from relying on your pension or 401K," Shen said.
Teaching financial literacy could fit really well into math courses, Shen said. Teachers could begin teaching concepts such as compounding interest through simple examples relating to their students interests, like candy. The students could give the teacher one piece of candy and get another back in a few weeks time.
"It would behoove the American education system if we could get financial literacy into math courses. Algebra is pretty much all you need for investing, and so there should be more ways to apply [financial literacy in classrooms], and getting more projects like [Juni Learning and Bloom's partnership] in there is critical. So, I think to a certain extent it's also on us, the grassroots, to bring [financial literacy] up with community leaders to try to get it into curriculums," Shen said.
That said, financial literacy has become more widely discussed in recent years. There have been many companies in the financial industry that have started to emphasize supporting customer's financial wellness. For example, large financial service companies like Bank of America and Visa. Even FinTechs like SoLo Funds and Robinhood have integrated financial education resources into their apps.
"I'm really glad over the last couple of years people have started to talk about [financial literacy] more, because in the past it felt very taboo to talk about money. Now, it's great that we're all working toward getting financial literacy out to more folks," Shen said.
Students, teachers, and anyone else interested in learning the basics of investing through Juni Learning's and Blooms partnership can access the free Money-Minded course here.