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Education

Consumer awareness at school level

The consumption patterns are changing fast and children today are very clear on their choices regarding food, clothing, cosmetics or accessories. Parents are increasingly permitting their children to take decisions when shopping. It then becomes very important for children to check details before buying products.

THE PROCESS of development along with the expanding globalisation and liberalisation process has increased the number of consumer related issues. Consumer protection has earned an important place in the political, economic and social agendas of many nations. In India, the Government has taken many steps including legislative, to protect consumers.

However, this is largely unknown to many citizens irrespective of whether they are educated or uneducated. With an enormous population along with high levels of poverty, unemployment and poor literacy levels, consumer awareness continues to remain low. Education is a life long process of constantly acquiring relevant information, knowledge and skills. Consumer education is an important part of this process and is a basic consumer right that must be introduced at the school level. Consumers by definition include all citizens who are, by and large the biggest group, who are affected by almost all government, public or private decisions. The most important step in consumer education is awareness of consumer rights. However, consumer education is incomplete without the responsibilities and duties of consumers, and this influences individual behaviour to a great extent. With the increasing changes in economic conditions, the children especially are becoming young consumers at an early age. Children must learn to obtain information about goods and services, understand the psychology of selling and advertising, learn to shop wisely and distinguish between wants and needs. They must also understand the alternatives of conserving and saving rather than buying and consuming.

Children are spending more of their leisure time watching television at the cost of other pursuits such as reading or sports. With the introduction of a number of specialised satellite channels, television enjoys a large viewership base consisting of children. Exposure to the marketplace as young shoppers has made most children aware of the different kinds of products that are available. Advertisements are no doubt an important source of information as they help to inform consumers about the availability of different products before making their choice. A majority of the advertisements are aimed at young children today, especially those covering food products, beverages and cosmetics (especially toothpaste/fairness creams). Advertising influences the food preferences and eating habits of children to a large extent.

Unfortunately, many advertisements make false promises, are highly exaggerated and give incomplete descriptions of products. The media, schools and parents along with consumer groups need to help children develop the ability to understand the purpose of advertising. There is so much more information available to children that they must perceive the importance of distinguishing between different sources of information.

The consumption patterns are changing fast and children today are very clear on their choices regarding food, clothing, cosmetics or accessories. Parents are increasingly permitting their children to take decisions when shopping. It then becomes very important for children to check details (for example, labels) before buying products. Children can be taught to shop wisely and a few simple precautions will ensure that they choose the right product at the right price. It is but natural that parents wish the best for their children, and strive hard to fulfil their demands. But this is not always a good idea as it affects both the parents and children in a negative way in the long run.

Consumer education also involves environmental education as it deals with the importance of conserving (natural resources) and sustaining (recycling and reusing) the environment, including the direct health effects of environmental pollution and toxic products on consumers.

Schools must incorporate consumer education into school curricula as it is important to impart the practical skills and critical ability needed to cope with social and economic changes.

Shobha Iyer

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