Letters: Teaching finance

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The Independent Online

How the right teachers can fire pupils' interest in finance

Sir: We applaud the Government's initiative to improve the level of personal finance and enterprise teaching in the National Curriculum (report, 9 July) but Ed Balls needs to recognise that there is no "quick fix" to improving financial literacy in our society.

We currently run programmes for local schools which teach students about the City, what it means to invest and how the stock market works. When we first instituted this programme, we were concerned that students would find it "boring" but it has actually proved very popular. The key to success has been making it relevant to the students' lives - once they recognise the direct benefits of improved financial knowledge, they become interested.

We run programmes for schools where we teach the teachers to bring an entrepreneurial perspective into the classroom. We find one of the key reasons teachers don't teach business and enterprise in the classroom is because of a lack of confidence and direct exposure to business.

A related problem is that insurance is seen as bad value. Often people believe that investing in home and motor insurance, or a pension fund, doesn't deliver value for money. When you have a situation like the recent flooding, you see that actually home insurance offers great value, but only when disaster strikes.

So while we welcome this move, improving financial literacy is a complex, long-term project. This must not boil down to just another target to pile on our already pressured teachers.

PROFESSOR RICHARD VERRALL

HEAD OF THE FACULTY OF ACTUARIAL SCIENCE AND INSURANCE PROFESSOR JULIE LOGAN HEAD OF SIMFONEC, THE ENTERPRISE CENTRE, CASS BUSINESS SCHOOL, LONDON EC1

This planet isn't big enough for all of us

Sir: Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 10 July) is unperturbed and flippant about the potential increase in the world population. Having children is indeed our most important biological function, and one of our greatest pleasures. However there are important considerations, which Lawson ignores.

Easily obtained reserves of gas and coal are being rapidly depleted. Scarcity will increase costs, and the poor will suffer. Millions are starving now, and famines in Africa and elsewhere have been due to poverty, and the resulting pestilence has killed millions. What innovation in farming techniques does Mr Lawson have in mind?

The Independent has recently reminded us that per-capita wealth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product, is 10 times greater in the developed nations than in sub-Saharan Africa. There is not enough energy in the world to bring most of its citizens up to the standard of living which so many of us in the UK now enjoy. Malthus was right about limited resources. However unpopular, we all must face these challenges. We must match the size of the population to the resources available and provide an adequate and fair distribution so that the basic needs of food, shelter, education and health are available to all humankind .

WILLIAM KELLY

SALTBURN-BY-THE-SEA, REDCAR & CLEVELAND

Sir: With the intention of making it sound as if the world population is not really very large, Dominic Lawson states, correctly, that it could be accommodated in the state of Texas in houses on plots of 5,000 square feet, with four people to a house. This equates to a density of 86 people per hectare, which happens to be the same as the figure for inner London (2001 census). So we must picture Texas, which is nearly three times as large as the UK, occupied at the density of inner London. Rather a different message?

GRAHAM JAMESON

LANCASTER

Sir: Dominic Lawson's article of 10 July depressed me greatly. A majority of Britons think our country and the world is already overpopulated. But Dominic's cavalier attitude to wildlife, already under extreme pressure from us and our activities, is what horrified me most. If I had to choose between Dominic and one of the penguins he so carelessly dismisses, I'd choose the penguin.

WILLIAM PARTRIDGE

BOGNOR REGIS, WEST SUSSEX

Sir: The new economics foundation's Happy Planet Index is not an indicator of the "happiest country on the planet" (Dominic Lawson, 6 July). Rather, it is a measure of something much more fundamental. It calculates the relative efficiency with which nations use planetary resources in pursuit of good lives for their citizens.

The report presents unadulterated data, drawn from standard, comparable international sources. Looking at life-satisfaction alone, the most recent findings actually highlight Denmark as best performing, interestingly a very equal society. But, sadly, if everyone in the world were to live as we do in Europe, we would need several more planets' worth of resources to sustain us. Unfortunately, these were not available at the last time of looking. We may be reasonably happy, but we are grossly inefficient.

Lawson is no statistician. Equating statistical estimation with "making it all up" would rule out swathes of standard, widely accepted metrics of economic development and make redundant most scientists, insurance companies, banking, investment, economic research and, indeed, the Treasury.

Lawson's suggestion that Vanuatuans are happy because they don't know what they are missing smacks of cultural imperialism. As the BBC's report suggested, there are indeed many aspects of western life that Vanuatuans are missing out on: crime, family breakdown, distrust and widespread depression, to name just a few.

ANDREW SIMMS

POLICY DIRECTOR THE NEW ECONOMICS FOUNDATION NIC MARKS FOUNDER, THE CENTRE FOR WELL BEING, NEF, LONDON SE11

Mechanical learning cripples creativity

Sir: Sarah Churchwell asks "Why can't British students write like Americans?" (Opinion, 11 July). While I share her dismay at poor grammar teaching in our schools I wouldn't adopt the American model for the world and I dispute her assertion that a rote-learned and prescriptive relationship with language is the only possible model.

As head of the creative-writing team at Brunel University in west London, where the campus is probably the most diverse in Britain, I estimate that 87 per cent of our first-year undergraduates need to work on their language skills. Many of them also write with confidence, passion and extraordinary inventiveness.

The American-educated students, while polished grammarians, seem to be the products of a mechanised teaching process that has nullified their creative instincts and maimed their self-expression as badly as a weak grasp of language. For example, a Chicago-educated young writer doing a PhD with us once described the massacre in Tiananmen square as "unpleasant" and winced at the suggestion that a stronger term would have been appropriate.

Foreign students may have a better command of our native tongue but in any activity requiring original thought I'll back a British student to wipe the floor with them.

CELIA BRAYFIELD

BRUNEL UNIVERSITY

Sir: Commenting on the poor use of English as decried by Sarah Churchwell, Raphael Salkie (Letters, 12 July) writes that if students "use malapropisms or have trouble with punctuation, surely a teacher should offer help and support instead of poking fun".

I am sorry, but as a university lecturer I do not see it as my duty to introduce my students to the basics of using the English language. These are, after all, young adults who gained access to higher education by passing public examinations usually described by our educational authorities as "the gold standard". They should not need to be instructed that it is wrong to write, as one of my (final-year!) tutees recently chose to do: "It has took Parliament a lot of time to ammend this law."

WALTER CAIRNS

SENIOR LECTURER IN LAW

MANCHESTER METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY

Give us back our song and dance

Sir: I was so pleased to see Terence Blacker's article about the effects of the Licensing Act (6 July). The attitude of the Malvolios at the Department of Culture (sic), Media and Sport is inexplicable except in terms of control freakery.

Singing and dancing are basic human activities, and interference with them means restriction of a basic human right. Freedom of expression applies to expression through dance and song just as it does to speech.

The Government has undertaken, in response to an on-line petition signed by 47,000 people, to "look closely" at the report from the Live Music Forum, "to see if action is needed". Action is indeed needed, and it is important for the cultural life of local communities that they should seize this opportunity to take it.

DCMS said when introducing the Bill that its concern was that certain types of entertainment "raise issues of public safety, nuisance and sometimes crime". In that case the Government can safely disapply the Act in all cases where there is no profit motive and all cases where there is no sound amplification, provided fewer than, say, 100 people are present. This should give ample protection. After all, it is not as though we do not have plenty of other legislation dealing with safety, nuisance and crime. This simple step would relieve local authorities, as well as event organisers and owners of premises, of an administrative burden they should not have to bear.

ADRIAN WEST

LONDON N21

Divisions worsened by Rushdie honour

Sir: I read with incredulity the statements promulgated by those arguing in favour of the knighthood being bestowed upon Salman Rushdie.

It is true that the Government should not allow anyone to interfere in our internal affairs, but Rushdie has insulted the feelings of over one billion Muslims around the globe and over two million Muslims in the UK. Those who decided to honour him should have known that the repercussions of such an act would only rekindle profound fears and anxieties and widen the chasm between the West and the Muslim world at a time when we need each other to exorcise the spectre of global terrorism.

DR MUNJED FARID AL QUTOB

LONDON SW5

Sir: A wild-eyed lunatic in a cave somewhere far away, who probably has never read a sentence of Salman Rushdie's work, manages to get his hands on a video camera and threatens the UK (report, 11 July). And what is the collective response of our news media? To hand a huge victory to him by placing the message at the top of the agenda for most TV programmes and newspapers. Is it not time to ignore these tapes, or at most to refer to them in a single-sentence report?

TONY JACKSON

LONDON SW12

Right to buy or right to a home?

Sir: Such is the need for more social housing, especially in London, a lifting of the ban on council building would be extremely welcome ("Brown declares priorities: housing, education and NHS", 11 July). However, unless we address the loss of social housing through right-to-buy sales, building more social housing in London would be like filling up a leaky pot. Since the "right to buy" was introduced, a third of London's social homes have been sold into private ownership.

If we really want to ensure people have the right to affordable housing we need to abolish the automatic right to buy and ensure that for every social home sold, at least one new home is built.

CLLR DARREN JOHNSON

LONDON ASSEMBLY GREEN PARTY MEMBER, LONDON SE1

Sir: Instead of building new homes and destroying green-belt land forever Gordon Brown should propose that existing older homes are systematically replaced with modern, low-carbon, low-density housing. This is the correct solution to the problem, albeit one that is more of a logistical challenge than simply building over pristine land. If the lessons of the past few decades are anything to go by, then as a society we have got to stop taking the easier option for short-term gain.

ROB SEDGWICK

DORKING, SURREY

Underwater parliament

Sir: Robert Craig (letters, 11 July) suggests locating a much-needed devolved English parliament in Leeds or Nottingham. The best place would, of course, be somewhere that is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and flooding. This would certainly focus their minds on England's (and the rest of the world's) growing environmental crisis.

SIMON COWLEY

DARTFORD, KENT

MPs' Rwandan trip

Sir: I read your story in Pandora of 11 July. I would like to take the opportunity to point out that although you reported there are only eight MPs going to Rwanda, there are in fact 43 people participating in the trip, including candidates, councillors, and Conservative researchers who will participate in 20 projects over a two-week period. Far from decreasing in size the project has had to be expanded due to the support it has received.

ANDREW MITCHELL MP

SHADOW SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT HOUSE OF COMMONS, LONDON SW1

New Labour minority

Sir: When Gordon Brown hosts a meeting with leaders of Britain's three regional assemblies this week he will be meeting leaders of the Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru and the Democratic Unionist Party. The fact is that of the four elected governments of the United Kingdom, only Westminster now has an overall New Labour majority.

D G C JONES

LLANWRTYD WELLS, POWYS

Pay brides and grooms

Sir: The best way to get more people to marry is for the Government to pay for the wedding, as cost is a very common reason for people not marrying (Letters, 11 July). No further payments would be necessary if the (unproven) assumption that marriage in itself helps keep people together is true, for why is a financial incentive necessary if having the status alone does the work? If the status does not have that effect, why support it?

JOHN EEKELAAR

OXFORD

Over-packaged tart

Sir: How's this for an example of over-packaging? A set of two "truly irresistible" bakewell tarts from the Co-op were in two (not one) foil cases apiece, sitting in indentations on a plastic tray, covered with a plastic sheath, and then placed in a cardboard outer box with plastic see-through window. Next time I shall resist temptation.

MOLLIE TOY

SOUTHWELL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

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