The case for teaching and learning about taxation and superannuation at school

In April 2018 the ATO commissioned the University of Canberra to undertake an academic research review building the case for teaching and learning about taxation and superannuation at school.

This research review will assist the ATO in engaging Australian policy makers, curriculum writers and school leaders in thinking about the importance of and possibilities for teaching and learning about taxation and superannuation in the compulsory years of schooling.

Structure of research review

There were five key sections in the research review:

  • The first section explores the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians and situates the importance of teaching and learning about taxation and superannuation to achieving these goals.
  • The second section discusses relevant international and national education policies.
  • The third section examines Australian taxpayer and investor attitudes and behaviour and briefly considers the implications for school education.
  • The fourth section provides a critical review of theoretical and empirical research literature and offers a more comprehensive appraisal of the implications for school education.
  • The fifth section frames the key insights drawn against an examination of the existing and potential opportunities for teaching and learning about taxation and superannuation within the Australian Curriculum and makes recommendations that are intended to advance thinking about these opportunities.

Key insights from research review

Key insights from the research include:

  • The University of Canberra reviewed more than 50 theoretical and empirical research papers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, United States and Scandinavian countries.
  • The literacy review presents and discusses insights from the critical review in four parts: studies involving adults (which usually draw inferences about financial literacy education at school); studies involving teachers; issues in evaluating educational impact; and implications for educating children and adolescents.
  • In terms of understanding educational needs related to taxation, a number of Australian studies have explored the relationship between culturally mediated narratives of fairness and perspectives on taxation administration and compliance. These studies acknowledge that young people are socialised into financial practices over their lifetime by family and social networks.
  • A comparative study involving participants from Australia, Singapore, and the United States found that the first and most influential factor affecting taxation compliance is taxpayers’ own personal moral beliefs, along with the beliefs of those close to them.
  • Schools have autonomy to implement the Australian Curriculum in ways that value teachers’ professional knowledge, reflect local contexts, and take into account individual students’ family, cultural, and community backgrounds.
  • The studies considered in this review suggest that education must aim to do more than transmit knowledge. Education must intrinsically motivate young people to actively seek out and engage critically with financial information.
  • Educating students about taxation and superannuation needs to be nuanced, acknowledging the complexity of the current systems, and preparing young people for the possibility that these systems may change over the course of one’s working life.
  • There are more substantial opportunities than what currently meets the eye within Mathematics and Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS): Economics and Business, but also HaSS: Civics and Citizenship, where students learn about government policies, political parties and political choices, many of which relate to taxation and superannuation.
  • Currently, there is the risk that schools and teachers limit their consumer and financial literacy programs and practices to these learning area strands and the associated Content Descriptions.
  • Given Australia’s tax culture, it is inevitable that children and adolescents are, to varying degrees, exposed to family conversations and practices related to tax and super. These socialisation processes are how values are shared from generation to generation and highlight what knowledge, skills, and capabilities are valued as teachable.
  • Much of what is taught and learned at school can be applied to a range of meaningful and useful real world financial contexts, including taxation and superannuation. For example, primary school students learn to use fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, and rates. These conceptual understandings underpin an ability to contend with Australia’s individual income tax scale and compound interest calculations applied to superannuation.

Recommendations to support schools and teachers

The research review argues that there is significant potential for schools and teachers to develop the seven general capabilities through teaching and learning involving meaningful and useful financial contexts, including taxation and superannuation.

The research review recommends that we partner with teacher professional associations with a view to transforming the way schools and teachers perceive and prioritise opportunities to teach and learn about taxation and superannuation.

These recommendations align with the Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (Commonwealth of Australia, 2018).

How the research will be used

This research supports the potential for all Australian children to become knowledgeable and confident about tax and superannuation, facilitating improved financial literacy, and mitigating future strain on the Australian economy. It will help us build a case for curriculum changes to have tax and super taught in schools.

These insights will contribute to a broader program of work to build trust and confidence in the tax and superannuation systems with the next generation of taxpayers.

Next step: