Teenagers embrace game-based financial literacy project

Petgrave admits that since hosting the first sessions of a game-based financial literacy project he developed for at-risk youth living in Corporate Area and St Catherine communities, he has not been able to walk without being approached by youngsters eager to learn more.

“They were awesome,” he said of the workshops held in February and March this year in Tivoli Gardens.

“I can’t walk in peace any more since the project was launched in the community. I have instances where I am going about my business and I just hear ‘Natty, Natty’, and they are storming me with questions,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“They want to go beyond what was taught in the workshops because we just did the basics, but you find that the students want more,” he said, noting that there are plans to establish mentorships for the youngsters.

The programme, which is called Math and Money Challenge, was developed by Petgrave, CEO of Natty Platforms Limited under its youth engagement arm, Educatours Jamaica.

The US Embassy in Jamaica is supporting the project with $3.5 million, saying that it is in line with US Government priorities in Jamaica to utilise educational and cultural exchange programmes to engage vulnerable youth populations.

Under the project, youngsters 14 to 16 years of age, 80 of whom are from Tivoli Gardens, 80 from Common in the Red Hills Road area, and 80 from Gregory Park, St Catherine, participate in two financial literacy workshops per community led by Learn Grow Invest which provides investing and personal finance information while promoting financial education and literacy.

After each workshop, participants are transported to National Heroes’ Park in Kingston for electronic treasure hunts where they work in teams using a mobile app, named AdvenTours, to complete challenges that combine math, money and the cultural history inside the park.

All participants receive a $5,000 investment account to start their investing journey, which is followed by a treasure hunt and conference featuring a US guest speaker.

Petgrave explained that before hosting workshops in Tivoli, door-to door-engagement in the community revealed that only three of the participating 80 students from the community had bank accounts.

He said the interest expressed by teens to be formally associated with financial institutions and to adopt money management skills was a fulfilling experience.

“There was a youngster who I had never seen in uniform or anything like that; he is always running up and down doing things in the community. On the morning of the workshop he was the first student there, with his shirt tucked in his pants looking ready to learn and it was the first time I saw him like that. It brought tears to my eyes,” Petgrave said.

“There is this other youngster who was very small, I don’t think he was the right age for the programme, but he threw a tantrum when I told him he was too young and I decided to include him in the project,” he added.

Public affairs officer at the US Embassy Robert Adelson told the Observer that the programme was supported as it provides the opportunity to build on economic ties through educating youth on financial literacy.

“We were particularly intrigued by the programme’s unique approach, using games and technology to engage students who would not readily have these opportunities. We believe that the programme will help empower youth along positive pathways,” said Adelson.

“We hope that Jamaican youth will develop a strong appreciation for financial literacy, make wise monetary decisions, and identify strong, legitimate and long-term avenues to invest/grow wealth, so as to contribute to Jamaica’s economic stability and development,” he added.

In the meantime, Petgrave said he hopes there will be more support for the next staging of the workshops in Common on May 13 and 27.

“I want to see more than 80 students signing up, the smiles, questions, parents attending. The experience has gone beyond the workshops and the treasure hunt and I feel as if I am now a father of many children,” he said.