Improving the financial literacy of
Australian school students
ESSI Money powered by Suncorp is a web-based, mobile responsive simulation designed to teach secondary school students the fundamentals of financial literacy.
In 2007 Financial Basics Foundation (FBF), a trusted charity that provides free financial literacy resources to educators, saw the opportunity to use technology and game design to create an engaging resource to help students understand the fundamentals of earning, spending, saving and investing.
Over the ten years since we developed it, ESSI Money remained one of the most successful financial literacy initiatives in Australia and is played in over half of all secondary schools. This is a major achievement; it’s not often that games, particularly financial games designed for school students, stand the test of time.
However, by 2016 the product was nearing the end of its shelf life — the technology was becoming unsustainable and the design was outdated. So Financial Basics Foundation and Liquid Interactive, with financial support from Suncorp, committed to redesigning the game for a new generation.
ESSI Money powered by Suncorp is a completely new, complex digital simulation that incorporates sophisticated interaction design, learning design, social dynamics, digital technology and teacher facilitation to build the financial knowledge and capability of young Australians.
Since its official launch in late March 2017, ESSI Money has been an immediate success, already doubling game play stats recorded in the previous year and getting rave reviews from teachers. Students are playing the game after hours and on weekends, proving we have developed something both sticky and educationally effective.
Designed for both learner and organisation
During concept and development of the new ESSI Money, Financial Basics Foundation had to address the needs of both the learner and the organisation.
For the learner
Financial Basics Foundation vision is that every young Australian has the knowledge, skills and confidence that will enable them to make informed financial choices and manage their finances now and in the future.
For the organisation
It was important for Financial Basics Foundation to align with the Australian Government's values, for young people to understand basic financial principles. These two factors became the core drivers of the game design.
Alignment between the two
The content for ESSI Money was built to align with the Australian Curriculum, and has direct links to the Mathematics and the Economics and Business programs. It also has application for personal development programs.
Additionally, high importance is placed on building knowledge and skill that can promote positive behaviour, and grow students’ confidence to apply learnings to real-life situations.
What did the Financial Basics Foundation want to achieve?
Before we could redesign ESSI Money, we had to consider FBF’s business objectives:
- To continue to be able to create high quality resources that educate young people about sound financial management principles
- To secure increased financial and operational resources that would support our strategic objective to achieve financial security
- To expand operations to include programs for young people between the ages of 12-24, not just those in the secondary school system
- To develop an integrated partnership that maximises promotion and meaningful engagement
- To expand the reach of Financial Basics Foundation products and messaging to schools and students throughout Australia
- To provide new opportunities for Financial Basics Foundation to reach new target markets and the broader community with its products and content
These organisational goals translated into more specific goals for the product itself:
- Improve access to ESSI Money for low-literacy and indigenous audiences
- Improve engagement through a more contemporary look and feel
- Improve learning outcomes by more realistically simulating the experience of managing day-to-day finances in the modern digital-first world
- Improve learning outcomes by helping teachers get more meaningful insight into student activity through enhanced analytics and reporting
- Broaden reach by making ESSI Money accessible on all devices
- Provide the ability for continual expansion and customisation of the game by enabling changes to core settings and scenarios.
How does ESSI Money work?
There are five layers to the learning design:
One | Simulation
Students engage with the game world through a series of in-game applications, designed like phone apps. Each app has its own look, feel, rules and features. Students progress through 26 in-game weeks and each week they make financial decisions. Processes include applying for jobs, opening a bank account, applying for a credit card, buying and selling goods, paying for utilities, making and monitoring investments. Players can experiment with the outcomes of different decisions and strategies, and the weekly rhythm of the game helps reinforce the acquisition and fluency of skill.
Two | Content
ESSI Money aligns with the Australian Curriculum. It uses content as context to support students to build real-world skills, and teaches a range of curriculum content throughout the game. Content is delivered just-in-time, as it is needed during the game, and end-of-week quizzes are used to check students' understanding of concepts and knowledge.
The game is designed in two modes: Standard and Plus. The Plus mode includes extra apps and more complex interactions to help teachers offer differentiated instruction based on students' literacy and numeracy.
Three | Game and play
ESSI Money includes elements of game and play to create engagement. The nature of a financial simulation means there is always a “score”, in this case the net worth of the player at the end of the game. The game element is generated as players in a class have access to a leaderboard and assess their performance against each other. The player is also motivated by self-improvement and the drive to improve on their personal best. ESSI Money brings humour and playfulness to establish an emotional connection encouraging students to get involved and continue to play.
Four | Teacher administration
As well as being able to manage classes and activities, teachers are able to track student progress, review decisions made in-game, read diary entries, and see results from the in-game weekly quizzes. Reports not only help teachers to see where students succeed or fail, but facilitate a deeper discussion about strategies and theories, encouraging higher order thinking and learning.
Five | Social learning
The most effective learning takes place within a social context. Although ESSI Money does not have any built-in social tools, it has been designed to be played in a class and take advantage of social dynamics and teacher facilitation. In particular, the combination of student leaderboard and teacher reporting encourages students and teachers to openly discuss challenges and strategies, celebrate achievements, and even compete against one another; encouraging active learning.
How is the game delivered so that it works for teachers?
The delivery process for ESSI Money was considered primarily from the teacher’s point of view taking into account the classroom environment and the type of technology available in public and private schools. ESSI Money is playable across all devices and browsers, entirely web-based and mobile responsive, making it widely accessible.
The gameplay is modular, so while an entire game takes 3-4 hours from beginning to end, in a classroom students can complete a game over a term (typically around 10 weeks, playing once a week). As students progress through the weeks, new content unlocks to build upon theory and enable students to put their knowledge into practice.
ESSI Money allows teachers to facilitate student progress. Teachers and educators are given access to a Teacher’s Portal where they can monitor student progress through reporting and analytics. Teachers are able to view how far students have progressed in the game, their financial positions, weekly quiz results, and student diary entries.
ESSI Money is freely available to all Australian secondary teachers, to encourage wide uptake.
In addition to addressing specific Australian Curriculum learning areas, ESSI Money also interfaces with FBF’s Operation Financial Literacy, a downloadable activity-based resource. While the two products can be used independently, they complement each other and further support adoption and use in schools.
What are the results so far?
The longest-term impact from ESSI Money should be seen in reduced rates of financial distress and debt among the Australian public. As a proxy our success measures are based on uptake, retention and teacher feedback.
In this regard, the new ESSI Money has been an instant success, already becoming more popular than version one.
In the complement months since launch in March 2017, ESSI Money reached 63% of the total number of classes that were registered in the entire year of 2016; 54% of registered games and 82% of completed games.
The number of games started increased by 127% from Q2 2016 to Q2 2017, resulting in several thousand more games played, and at the time of reporting, 25% of games in 2016 had been completed, compared with 31% in 2017. So essentially uptake has doubled, and the rate of game completion is holding steady.
Rave reviews from the educators
We’ve also received extremely positive reviews from teachers, saying that they are finding it hard to stop students playing the game in their own time (including on weekends) and progressing too quickly.
Samples of emails from school staff to FBF:
“I started my students on a regular game and they loved it so much they were quite disappointed when I told them they’d be playing the Plus game. They didn’t think that it could possibly be any better than the game they’d been playing. However, the Share app blew them away and the students are addicted.”
“I can’t get them out of the classroom. I’m waiting for the novelty to wear off!”
“The students say they love this game and are really engaged in it, which is great on many levels i.e. enjoy coming to class, fully focused, good to see them helping and encouraging others, learning valuable life and financial lessons without realising it!”
A message from Katrina Birch, CEO, Financial Basics Foundation
We have partnered with Liquid Interactive for over ten years now to develop and advance our signature product ESSI Money. The team at Liquid has skillfully delivered a creative and innovative design for an original concept that incorporates the complex rules and relationships that underpin the game engine.
ESSI Money is an ongoing success in schools as a result of the deep and immersive nature of the game and its engaging content.
The resulting synergy of our collaboration with the Liquid team delivered exceptional outcomes that allow us to sustain impact and presence in the lives of our students and improve their financial capability to prepare them for the future.
The team at Liquid understands our organisation and our users and I have no hesitation in recommending them as digital partners for transformative projects that aim to deliver truly effective results.