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Cryptocurrency Educators Try to Find a Foothold in Financial Learning

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Carolyn Vadino, who heads up educational initiatives at the crypto exchange Gemini, remembers when financial literacy meant learning how to balance a checkbook. 
"It may sound antiquated now, because everything has gone digital, but that was a very important tool for me to understand at that time," she said. 
The lesson for Vadino was that her education — though out of date now — was matched to actual financial needs. With that in mind, she now believes schools should be teaching classes on cryptocurrencies, which in her view will be crucial for students going forward. 
"We strongly believe that digital assets are the future, and it makes sense that it should be incorporated into any kind of financial literacy programming," she said. 
While calls for more crypto education are common in an industry that is often explaining itself, the idea that everyone should be learning more about crypto is beginning to spread. 
New York City mayor-elect Eric Adams said in a CNN interview earlier this year that the city must "open our schools to teach the technology and teach this new way of thinking when it comes down to paying for goods and services."
If Adams is successful, he'll have broken the mold, because crypto education is still largely the purview of industry efforts such as Gemini's Cryptopedia, an online learning platform with courses on everything from "What is Bitcoin?" to the nuances of fractional investing. 
"The goal of these resources is really to get individuals more comfortable with the asset class overall and help them stay on top of evolving trends," Vadino said. 
The platform is just one example of what is already a cottage industry. As investors continue to pour into the crypto market, educators of varying quality are popping up to teach them. 
"There's a lot of noise in the space," said Lisa Francoeur, co-founder of Crypto Tutors, an educational startup that mostly works with companies to teach their employees about crypto. "There's a lot of great content out there, but there's a lot of bullshit out there as well."

Financial Literacy 

Whether crypto education can make the jump from private efforts to inform casual investors to a school-based education program could depend on whether teachers and administrators see crypto the way champions like Vadino do: as a key component of financial literacy. 
That's the approach that the Electric Coin Company has taken in the South Bronx, where the company's Crypto in Context program has gotten a foothold at Bronx Community College. 
The program aims to bring crypto education to underserved communities, and it's focused on teaching students about where crypto fits in the broader monetary system, rather than breaking down the latest investment trends. 
The course begins with the basics of money and then digs into how crypto overlaps with aspects of the monetary system that are relevant to students in the South Bronx, such as the cost of international remittances or the challenges facing communities that are underbanked. 
This reflects the Electric Coin Company's vision of crypto education being integrated with existing financial literacy programs, rather than becoming its own separate subject. 
"I hope to see crypto woven into the fabric of education rather than something distinct," said Josh Swihart, senior vice president of growth, product strategy, and regulatory affairs at the Electric Coin Company. "Crypto is a tapestry of disciplines including economics, game theory, mathematics and cryptography, computer science, entrepreneurship and business, geopolitics and law."
He also stressed the importance of the classes not being too top-down and said that the crypto community could learn a lot by engaging with young people about their financial needs. 
"The students are very perceptive," he said, adding that participants in the class have a knack for getting at some of the biggest questions in the crypto space around privacy and access. 
One student, for instance, pointed out that while crypto companies tout decentralization and anonymity, many of them still require users to provide state identification to get access. 
Getting administrators on board was actually the hardest part, Swihart said. Many of them saw crypto as a scam or a purely speculative activity, with little educational value. The key to getting the program started in the Bronx was finding someone on the inside who was sympathetic.  
"There has to be a champion," he said. "There has to be somebody who already kind of gets it within the doors who's trusted within the institution. That's really, really important. I can't go into the South Bronx and have any credibility on my own. I don't know the people." 
The goal going forward for the Electric Coin Company is to find more local partners who can help set up educational programs in other cities around the country. 

Golden Opportunity  

For the moment, however, crypto education is still mainly a resource for the growing number of investors who want greater access to the high returns in the space. 
Crypto Tutors' Francoeur and co-founder Nina Blankenship see their role as helping increase access to a once-in-a-generation investment opportunity. 
"Essentially the knowledge is intended to be translated into wealth," said Francoeur. "We have a very clear vision for how to close the economic wealth gap."
She noted, however, that the crypto education industry has yet to reach a critical mass. 
"We're just scratching the surface, which is why it's so important now to be responsible with how we prepare people for the future," she said. "Now the education starts. If we intend to set people up for success, and close this economic wealth gap, this is an opportunity to do so." 
Right now, that education is being targeted at beginner investors, advanced investors, and corporations looking to train their staff, but Crypto Tutors anticipates a wider group of people seeking crypto education in the near future, as the industry's role in the economy expands. 
"Regardless of whether you agree with blockchain technology or not, you need to be able to participate and educate yourself," Blankenship said. 
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