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THRIFT AMONG THE CHILDREN.
A Few weeks ago, when I was talking with an influential friend about writing an article for this Review on · Thrift among the Children,' he seemed rather surprised, and asked me what I meant-in what form thrift did or could exist among children. But when I began to tell him that thrift among the children had been inculcated and developed to such purpose in France that, since 1874, over twenty-three thousand School Savings Banks have been opened, numbering, in January 1885, no less than 488,624 depositors, with deposits amounting in the aggregate, formed of the bonâ fide pocket-money of the children, to a sum of 11,285,046 francs-viz. 451,0001.—he at once seized the wide issues involved in the question.
. And when I went on to say that, though in the matter of ordinary Savings Banks we had led the way for all countries through the perfection of our Post-Office Savings Bank system, out of the 18,761 elementary schools of England, with their four million children, less than two thousand ---that is, 1,979—have school banks attached to them; and that this is the case, notwithstanding that the adoption of school banks is strongly advocated by the Education Department, and so far enforced that, in assessing the merit grant, her Majesty's Inspectors are instructed that those schools only are entitled to the mark · Excellent' that, where circumstances permit, have their own Savings Bank; and when I further explained that, from evidence in my own possession, I was led, broadly speaking, to attribute our backwardness to the importance of the question not having been sufficiently brought home to people of all classes, as well as to the difficulty of getting at concise, comprehensive information on it, because such information is for the most part either scattered about or buried in the works of educationalists and specialists-he became anxious that the subject should be discussed in this Review; which, with the permission of the Editor, it may be.
The subject was first brought under my notice by a practical demonstration of the educational value of school banks, and of the aptitude of the poor to appreciate the advantages they afford, the moment they are put within their reach.
A month or two back a school bank was started in my own neighbourhood, through the initiation and efforts of the Clapham branch of the Society of St. Elizabeth of Hungary—one of those societies of
ladies that in their particular sphere are doing almost as much for the education of women in the practical affairs and realities of daily life as Mr. Gladstone, in his now historic Manifesto, anticipates for the public education of the country from the reform of local government.
Without any special knowledge of School Savings Banks, their number, working, or results, the president of this Society was led by her observations amongst the poor to anticipate important results if she could succeed in establishing one in a large girls' school of her district. Having made sufficient inquiries to justify the experiment, she sought and obtained the permission and co-operation of the school authorities to start a School Savings Bank, in connection with the Post-Office Savings Bank, for the girls and infants of St. Anne's Schools.
In September last the bank was opened by the Secretary of the National Thrift Society. On the opening day, out of one hundred children thirty-four became depositors: the deposits amounted to 88. 6d., showing that they were the bona fide pocket-money of the children. Which is a thing to be noted, as there is frequently danger, especially at starting a school bank, of the parents making the children the medium of saving their own money; a proceeding that is fatal to the special object and permanent success of a school bank. I may add that in the month of November a Penny Savings Bank was opened for the mothers of the district, which removed all risk of neutralising the educational value of the children's bank by its being made a mere convenience for the family savings.
These facts, when they became known to me, struck me as a remarkable indication of the most hopeful possibilities : they promised great things. I began to make inquiries myself about the extent and working generally of the system of school banks. I made inquiries at the Education Department; I made inquiries about England, in Liverpool and Birmingham; also in Ireland; and then abroad-in Belgium and, above all, in France.
The result of my inquiries was strangely varied : by the side of what I had almost called the strongest confirmation of antecedent probability, strengthened by the short experience of St. Anne's Schools, I met profound apathy or complete ignorance of the whole subject. Without clear proof, this contradictory state of things would be incredible. But having the great good fortune to be brought into communication with M. de Malarce, whose authority on the question of school banks is second to none, I came to see, through his experience, why we are at present so far behind France in a matter of such grave practical consequence.
M. de Malarce may be said to bave been inspired with the resolution of initiating a scheme of school banks on the basis of a definite and precise scholastic institution or educational system by the Hun. garian patriot Francis Deak.
In 1873 M. de Malarce was officially commissioned by the Minister of Public Instruction to go to Vienna during the International Exhibition for the special purpose of studying questions of popular economy. In the course of his examination of the large collection of documents on the Savings Bank institutions of various countries brought together on the occasion of the Exhibition, the attention of M. de Malarce was arrested by frequent allusions to school banksthe defects of the several systems adopted, the means employed to remedy them, and the general results, all were there treated at considerable length; and his official mission having brought him into relations with Francis Deak, whose interest in social questions had led him to devote special attention to the whole question of Savings Banks, M. de Malarce took occasion to discuss the particular branch of school banks with him. During one of these discussions the great patriot, in memorable words often since quoted, told the distinguished economist, that after having given much thought to the matter, he was convinced that Savings Banks were a most powerful instrument of civilisation, and above all school banks, which transformed the habits of a people through the moral and economical education they afforded the children.
These words did not fall by the wayside, or upon stony ground whence they could receive no life; they fell upon good soil all ready to receive them, and they grew up into the mighty tree that, with its twenty-three thousand branches, now covers the whole of France.
I am unable to say exactly when school banks were first started in England; but certainly there were several, though for the most part of inadequate efficiency, in operation in 1873. School banks also existed in Buda-Pesth in 1860, in Belgium in 1866, in Wurtemberg in 1846 and in France so long ago as 1834. These, however, except in the case of Belgium, were isolated cases of the institution ; and in Belgium, whither economists from many lands have gone to learn their first lesson in the practical working of scholastic thrift, school banks, even at the present day, have nothing of the character of a national system.
M. Laurent, with strenuous and constant effort, has done wonders in establishing them in the communal schools of Ghent, in the face of many difficulties and much official, political, and parental opposition. But the success of school banks in Belgium is simply a local success : it has nothing of a national character. To France, and to France alone, belongs the distinction—a distinction of which she is justly proudof having attained a national system of school banks.
Immediately on his return home in 1873 M. de Malarce determined to do his utmost without delay to establish Savings Banks on a thoroughly sound basis throughout the schools of France. For this purpose he visited England and Belgium in order to study and see in operation the systems pursued there. And it was not until he had learned all he could about them in both countries that he drew up the code of rules and formulated the system now known as the French system. Carefully guarding against the causes of failure that he had observed in the methods adopted in other countries, he framed his rules with a view to insure what he deemed the essential conditions of a sound plan : 1, the utmost ease and safety of mechanism; 2, the minimum of labour and responsibility for the teacher ; 3, an educational exercise.
Having well ventilated the subject through the press—which faithfully seconded his efforts—and the monthly reviews, and by means also of lectures, M. de Malarce published his well-known Manuel des Caisses d'Épargne scolaire. This was at once addressed by the Minister of Public Instruction to all the inspectors of colleges and schools, and by the Minister of Commerce and Agriculture to the Savings Banks, Chambers of Commerce, and other public bodies under the control of his department; whilst the author himself gave them freely to all who asked for them: in this way he distributed gratuitously 22,000 copies.
In August 1876 the Société des Institutions de Prévoyance, which M. de Malarce had meantime founded, issued an appeal to the Conseils-Généraux for a small grant to cover the cost of printing, account-books, pass-books, and medals of encouragement to the teachers for their voluntary labours. In many instances this support was given; but from the first the principle laid down that everything was to be accomplished by free local effort and initiative was carefully adhered to.
The Central Administration of Education, as witnessed, for example, by the act of the Minister of Public Instruction in issuing the Manuel, showed warm interest in the scheme, and it carefully took note of its progress. In 1879 the Minister of Public Instruction went so far as to inscribe school banks amongst the institutions auxiliaires facultatives d'instruction et d'éducation; but, in the words of the official report of 1880, the department' had been careful not to interfere by the issue of any direct orders, for fear of altering the character of an institution requiring very delicate treatment, like all institutions that have moral education for their object. It was necessary as a first condition of efficiency that the schoolmaster should open the Savings Bank and that the children should deposit their money in it entirely of their own accord.
But before either master or child could act at all it was of course necessary that they should be made familiar with the subject. And once M. de Malarce's scheme and system were launched, nothing could have supplemented his efforts more effectually than the loyal and enthusiastic assistance he received from local authorities in all directions. Advice and encouragement met the teachers on every side: mayors, inspectors of both the higher and elementary schools,
members of the General and Municipal Councils, all came forward with their voluntary services to aid in the establishment of school banks. Nor were the school masters and mistresses backward to avail themselves of such assistance by corresponding to it with their own intelligent and gratuitous labours. The first ten years' experience of M. de Malarce's method has certainly proved that it was for lack of a sound system that during the preceding forty years school banks were but failing tentatives; but it has also proved equally the generous devotion and wisdom of the French teaching staff.
In his report for 1884 the Minister of Public Instruction, whilst further expressing the satisfaction of the Central Administration at the progress the school banks were making, again emphasised the fact that it left the establishment of these banks wholly to the free option and voluntary efforts of the teachers, who act solely from professional devotion, without any selfish object.' But for the first time the statistics of the school banks had their place amongst the other statistics of the official report; and they showed that in the course of ten years—viz. from 1874, when M. de Malarce's method was first brought into operation, down to 1884-over twenty-one thousand school banks had been established : that is, 21,481, with 442,020 depositors, whose weekly average deposits of fifteen centimes amounted in January 1884 to over ten million francs-10,248,226. Which means that more than twenty-one thousand teachers in France, inspired by the voluntary counsels of a still greater number of economists and public-spirited men, were freely devoting themselves to the delicate and laborious task of training the children of the poor in practical habits of thrift; thereby spreading a spirit of foresight and economy throughout the labouring classes—amongst parents and grown-up brothers and sisters—through the contagion of good example.'
Nothing succeeds like success. The example of France was quickly followed in far-distant countries : in the United States, in Canada, Australia and Brazil, as well as in Europe, school banks were inaugurated. The International Congress of Provident Institutions, held in Paris in 1878, gave evidence of their wide spreading quite as remarkable as the ever-increasing evidence of the deep root they had struck in France, which was to be found alike in the annual reports of the school inspectors and of the Minister of Public Instruction. In fact, in 1876, just two years after M. de Malarce's method came into operation, one of the school inspectors in his report to the Conseil-Général of the department stated that, in l'Ouest, so thoroughly did the parents realise the advantages and importance of school banks, that they considered a school defective that was without one.
The annual report of the Minister of Public Instruction for 1885 showed a still greater progress than the preceding. There were then 23,222 school banks, 488,624 depositors, and a gross sum of deposits amounting at the date of the report to 11,285,046 francs.