Financial Worries BEFORE University: How Ontario Can Improve Its Education

Hey readers! I wanted to take the opportunity for the third exec article of the term, with the recent worries of OSAP and how to manage finances at the postsecondary level, to take a step back to the secondary and elementary level of education. What expectation are they setting with current youth through their personal finance education? Are they preparing them for future financial situations like the one they’ve placed many of Ontario’s young adults into?

Ontario recently launched a pilot to teach financial literacy to these students, and I personally think it’s flawed. Ironically, Ontario already teaches sound personal finance as a mandatory part of students’ education, but only for some pathways. I believe that Ontario should have personal finance education, but how it has been implemented in past and present pilots is not ideal, with content that was either unhelpful or indigestible. It can be better implemented by taking Ontario’s existing personal finance education, designed for secondary students seeking
non-post-secondary pathways, and tailoring it for all to ensure financial knowledge equity.

Personal finance education is valuable for students to know and schools to teach. For both the functionalist and individual development theories of education, personal finance education provides students with the tools to function in society and remove barriers for reaching their own potential. Additionally, with many schools tailored to teach students to be personally responsible citizens, wanting someone who works and pays taxes, is challenging when that someone doesn’t know how to properly document proof of tax liabilities.

The current financial literacy plan does not teach meaningful personal finance to Academic/University-stream students. The 2011 Ontario curriculum update aimed to teach students from Grades 4-12 “to make informed choices and effective decisions about the use and management of money”. It tried, and failed, to seamlessly integrate financial literacy information into all aspects of the curriculum. They tried to sprinkle little bits of investigation and knowledge into different subjects, which left it extremely diluted. A University-bound student’s most meaningful exposure to personal finance is calculating compound interest.

Furthermore, the current Ontario pilot is an adjustment to the Grade 10 Careers course. This course is already crammed as a half course, taught after Grade 10 Civics, and is often seen by students as an easy course and a waste of time, which was highlighted in a CBC News investigation back in 2012. This new pilot does not do much to alleviate these concerns. The content includes budgeting, banking, and credit and debt management in
approximately 20 hours. Teaching this for under a month, or 3 days in the popular summer school offering, is far too little time for this subject.

However, College-stream and Workplace-stream students have already been receiving a quality education in personal finance in Grades 11-12. In a Grade 12 Mathematics for Work and Everyday Life course, students learn a lot of useful skills through great in-class exercises. Skills like how to budget a paycheck into living expenses and how to compare multivariable purchases like a phone plan are used as realistic examples, with teachers adapting realistic items like an in-circulation mobile phone plan flyer. This type of relatable and applicable content should be taught to all students.

There is a concern that this math course will be treated as a bird course. However, by replacing Functions as a mandatory Grade 11 math course, it is well positioned to be taken more seriously. Mathematics and English are the only mandatory Grade 11 courses, this would be a full course instead of a half-course, and students are ideally a year more mature. This combination aims to make students view this course as meaningful mandatory content that they can also devote more time and interest into.

That’s why I think personal finance education is important, and Ontario needs to get it right. It improves both students and schools, and while Ontario’s past and present pilot attempts are not satisfactory, the current personal finance courses taught to some students should be mandatory for
students seeking post-secondary education. This ensures financial knowledge equity for all Ontario Secondary School Diploma recipients.

Hope you enjoyed a bit more of an OpEd. Originally I was going to advertise a charity fundraiser we’re planning, but that wasn’t out by Friday morning, so this will suffice.