Helping young Australians become better with money

Commerce teacher Joel Kandiah is the authority on currency and he's on a mission to change the way we teach financial literacy in schools. Also known as The History of Money on TikTok, Joel discusses the links between delivering content on TikTok and in the classroom, the importance of relationship-building as an educator and his plans to help young people take control of their finances.

What prompted you to become a teacher?

It wasn't a consideration until I was 22 in my last semester of a double degree in Commerce and Economics at UWA. I'd seen friends graduate with a degree in economics who got caught up in a 'finance bubble'. They were working long, unsustainable hours and were stuck behind a computer most of the time. For me, this lifestyle wasn't sustainable and I knew it didn't allow me to make a real difference. At that same time, I was coaching junior cricket. I would teach kids how they could gradually save up to buy a cricket bat and became aware that schools weren't teaching financial literacy. This was a real turning point for me. I graduated from UWA in mid-2012 and went to Notre Dame to study a Graduate Diploma. At my first lecture I was captivated instantly. As a teacher, I strive to see a day where all schools are teaching financial literacy as part of the Australian curriculum and I want to help Australians, particularly young Australians, to become better with money.

You produce content about money and finance on TikTok (@thehistoryofmoney), which is predominantly a platform for young people. Does this play a part in your goal to improve financial literacy in Australia?

Definitely. Being a teacher enables you to deliver information succinctly and informatively. On TikTok, you've got 30 seconds to deliver a chunk of information which is engaging and informative at the same time. Using what I've learned in the classroom has allowed me to successfully resonate with audiences on that platform. I guess my personality plays a part in that too. Financial literacy concerns young people and their future. TikTok is a great way to communicate that information in a digestible and fun way. Creating content has allowed me to engage with students better and deliver information to young people in a contemporary way. You need to stick to your professional boundaries when it comes to using social media, but there's a lot of educational accounts out there.

The best way to teach is to relate to your students and apply knowledge in ways they understand.

In Year 11 and 12 subjects, there's a lot of content that they have no experience with. I believe that to be an effective teacher, you need to understand your student, what they're about and what their background is. Taking time to build relationships allows you to successfully deliver content. My TikTok helps to deliver content, but also adds to the relationships we build in the classroom.

When and how did you become fascinated with money and currency?

When I was a kid, I didn't talk much. I started seeing a speech pathologist when I was four or five years old and I distinctly remember playing with a cash register. Years later, I found a report from my speech pathologist which stated that when stimuli were placed in front of me I'd go straight for the cash register and play money. I discovered a passion for money when I was young and this kickstarted the development of my communication skills. Growing up, I collected coins and notes. Amongst friends, I've always been the 'go-to guide' regarding all things money, investing and currency. During a COVID-19 lockdown last year, I was thinking 'what can I do?'. I decided to create a video about the history of the five-dollar note on TikTok, and it blew up.

Previously I felt out of place because of my hobbies and interests; now pursuing my passion has helped me to feel confident in my identity.

I think it's important to stay true to who you are. You can't dwell on one person who doesn't understand you when there are many more people who like you for who you are. I think I've always been a good teacher, but embracing myself has allowed me to grow to another level. I'm able to share this energy with those around me and encourage my students to embrace themselves too.

Why is self-reflection so important as a teacher?

Teachers need to be in touch with who they are because it's a very emotive profession. It's a profession based on connection and relationships with students, fellow teachers and parents. If you can't connect on an emotional level, teaching becomes robotic and systematic. Of course, education has its processes, but the essence of being an educator is to develop strong, lasting relationships with those who you educate. If you cannot connect, the information you're sharing will go through one ear and straight out the other. I think that in order to connect with your students, you need to understand who you are as a person. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Are you able to critically reflect on your practice continuously and ask yourself – what's worked well? What can I change? What can I keep the same? If you don't allocate time to reflect, you'll never evolve and you'll lose the passion you had on your first day of teaching. If you don't incorporate human connection into your role as a teacher, you'll be no more effective than reading off a PowerPoint.

What's next for you?

TikTok will always just be a hobby and I'm going to let it grow organically. I don't want it to distract from my job as a teacher. I'm grateful to be at Scotch where my pursuits outside of the classroom are supported and congratulated. In the future, I'd like to see financial literacy become a compulsory requirement in schools. I'll be working with economics and commerce teachers across the state to identify what's lacking from our current curriculum and explore how we can help students to become confident with their finances. 

Do you want to hear from more insightful minds and explore innovative approaches to education? Discover the benefits of social music-making for young people in Studio Scotch's podcast episode with leading neuroscientist Alan Harvey.