Math is on every student’s course list from Grade 1 right through high school, but it seems they’re more fluent with fractions and factors than their own finances.
A working group co-chaired by Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Leeanna Pendergast is looking at ways to incorporate personal finance into the Ontario school curriculum for Grades 4 through 12.
Pendergast said a recent study of Grade 9 to 12 students by Youthology, commissioned by the Investor Education Fund, shows there’s a gap between what kids save for and what they worry about.
“The top things students save for are entertainment items and clothes. But the top two things that students are concerned about are their education and how to pay for it,” she said.
“Every time I say that it just makes me shiver a little bit, because students are telling us loud and clear ‘this is what I save my money for, but this is what I’m concerned about.’ I believe we have an obligation to close that gap for students, to give them the skills that they need in order to address that. They know they have to save, but what they’re saving for is not what they know they have to pay for in the future.”
The Ministry of Education puts the focus on personal finance in the context of the ongoing economic turbulence, precipitated when large numbers of Americans began defaulting on subprime mortgages whose rates had climbed beyond their ability to pay.
“We need our students to become wise consumers and wise investors because they are the economic future of Ontario,” Pendergast said.
Shouldn’t it be parents who teach their kids how to save and spend their money wisely?
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not a financial expert,” Pendergast said frankly. “So as a parent, where does that leave me? It leaves me in a position that I need a little bit of assistance.”
Pendergast said the Youthology survey revealed that 90 per cent of students turn to their parents for financial information, but the same percentage said they would like to use the Internet and school courses to learn about finance in the future.
Financial literacy is currently covered to some extent in high school business, math, career education and social science courses.
The working group will seek input from education and financial experts as well as students and their parents. The working group has three areas of focus: to define financial literacy, develop a list of skills and concepts students need, and figure out how to incorporate them into the curriculum.
At this point, Pendergast said, they would like to see personal finance integrated throughout the elementary and secondary curricula. However, consultation with experts will determine whether it would be more effective to offer a standalone course.
“I think until we hear from all the stakeholders and the experts in the field, we have to be open minded,” she said.
Pendergast was recently named parliamentary assistant to Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, a role she said is right up her alley as a former teacher and vice-principal.
The working group will report to the Ministry of Education’s curriculum council in June 2010, with personal finance being introduced to classrooms in September 2011.