How Behind The News is teaching kids about money


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It may be a well-worn stereotype at this point, but whether it's a conversation at the dinner table or a segment on the evening news, topics related to finance and money aren't always met with a great deal of enthusiasm.

In fact - and hopefully Money readers disagree here - bringing up the latest move from the Reserve Bank or the contents of the Federal Budget is just as likely to be met with a stifled yawn or the slow glazing over of someone's eyes as it is with keen, undivided interest.

While important, the reality is that these topics can sometimes be dry and unappealing - and that's to adults. Making finance and other prominent issues in the news engaging to younger Australians is an entirely different kettle of fish.

btn high host amelia moseley

But it's a challenge being tackled head-on by the team at the ABC's Behind The News (BTN).

Going behind the news

For generations of Australians, Behind The News will be a familiar name and one which is likely to kick up some nostalgia from childhood. But for the unfamiliar, BTN is an educational news program produced by the ABC which, traditionally, has been aimed at primary school-aged kids.

"From the very start 55 years ago the whole idea has been to take the news and current affairs and topics that are relevant to kids and explain them in a way that they can understand and make it engaging and entertaining, while working alongside the Australian curriculum," explains host and senior reporter, Amelia Moseley.

"Generally, BTN is for upper primary school-aged students. It's a national program watched in primary schools all around Australia. Then we also have BTN news break which is our daily news offering."

At the start of this year though, BTN expanded its programming to high school students with the launch of BTN High.

"It's the first time in BTN's history that we've actually targeted high school students in particular with our content. So we are doing what we've always done at BTN, which is to create engaging content for students, but just a little bit older now," says Moseley.

"We are also tailoring all of our stories to the curriculum, and it's from Years 7-12 and across all different subjects depending on what the news is and what the relevant topics are around the place."

A fresh spin on the 'so-called boring' topics

Since launching BTN High in January, it's fair to say that the BTN team hasn't shied away from covering some of the most complex topics in the news cycle, including ChatGPT, the age of criminal responsibility in Australia and the Türkiye-Syria earthquake.

While the subject matter can sometimes be difficult, Moseley believes that not covering issues like these would be a disservice to their audience.

"The general philosophy at BTN is if it's going to be something that's big enough and relevant enough that kids are going to be hearing about it, even if it is bit distressing at times or something quite complicated, we will generally try to tackle it, because we don't want kids and teenagers to be getting fake news or misinformation elsewhere."

The reality is that BTN's primary audience are school-aged Australians though, which means that stories need to be covered in a different way to, say, the nightly news. As Moseley notes, one of the major challenges is getting a topic across without dumbing it down.

"We definitely don't assume our audience necessarily knows the history behind whatever we're talking about, or the nuances behind it, but we also don't talk down to them. Kids, teenagers and adults too - we are all so aware when somebody's patronising us or speaking down to us, and so I think that's a really big reason that BTN still exists today - we really don't patronise our audience."

That's not to say that stories don't need a bit of razzle dazzle and, oftentimes, a bit of quirkiness to keep viewers engaged though.

"There are so many complex topics, especially when it comes to something like finance, that need a bit of treatment, so we have to find a way to make them engaging," Moseley says.

"We'll use graphics, we'll use music, we'll dress up and we'll get kids to act in stories and ask them what they think about what's happening. Those are just a few of the ways that, over the years, we've managed to make some so-called boring stories way more interesting."

Tackling the Reserve Bank

It's hard to think of a greater focal point for pressing issues like inflation and the cost of living at the moment, and one that's received so much media coverage, as the Reserve Bank. But it was one of the first subjects tackled for the new BTN High program by reporter Joseph Baronio.

Decked out in a grey suit and striped tie that wouldn't have looked out of place in the 1980s and parked in front of a suitably ancient computer, Baronio outlines the current situation well in his opening piece to camera.

"If you're blessed with the gift of consciousness then you'll know that it's been impossible lately to avoid hearing about things like rising interest rates, and inflation, and recession, and the Reserve Bank. But why do we care about all of this? Are we facing a recession? And what is the Reserve Bank?"

Those are logical questions that plenty of kids, let alone children, will have had in recent months given the prominence of the RBA in the news, which is why, Moseley says, it made an obvious subject for the BTN team to delve into in search of answers.

"It's been a really important topic and when there is something like that in the news we think it's important to explain.

"The RBA - those letters - are thrown around constantly and I think even a lot of adults don't quite understand what the RBA does. So I think it's really important that we get in early, especially with high school students, because it really does affect them and will continue to affect them as they get older."

The importance of covering finance

The Reserve Bank may have been the first major financial topic explored under the banner of BTN High, but it's by no means the first for Behind The News, which has an extensive history of breaking down the world of money and finance.

Moseley herself has covered everything from shares and interest rates to the cost of living - topics that, she says, can often be the most enjoyable to explore because of the creativity needed to tell them.

"We have been doing stories every single year whenever the budget comes out and they're actually some of the most fun stories to cover. Weirdly, stories that seem a little dry when you talk about them are the best stories to do on BTN and BTN High because you're forced to be creative and you're forced to find a fun way of telling the story."

"Over the years our budget stories have had a science fiction treatment, we've had Ghostbusters explaining what the budget was and all sorts of other different ways of treating and telling the story that you wouldn't imagine."

While a lot of fun to produce, Moseley says that subjects like the Federal Budget, the Reserve Bank and other financial topics are ultimately important to cover because of the impact they have, and will have, on the lives of younger Australians.

"Finance is, generally, so important for kids and teenagers and young people to learn about because it really affects them. And I think that the information that we provide them at an early age can actually go on to really impact their lives as they get older and become adults in a really positive way.

"Lots of adults don't necessarily understand it, so that knowledge doesn't always get passed on to kids and teenagers, and it's something that doesn't always get taught at school because there's only so much time to teach things.

"It's really important to talk about anything that doesn't get talked about enough that will impact somebody's life, and finance is just a perfect example of that."

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Tom Watson is a senior journalist at Money magazine, and one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. He's previously worked as a journalist covering everything from property and consumer banking to financial technology. Tom has a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) from the University of Technology, Sydney.