I remember seeing “Personal Finance” on our list of optional classes in Grade 11; I wondered what it was, decided it sounded lame, and assumed no one cool was going to take it anyway. That was the only time I remember the subject of financial literacy being mentioned in school, from kindergarten to grade 12. Maybe I’m being ridiculous—who would want to take a boring subject like personal finance anyway? Where would they find the teachers qualified to teach it? Why should we learn about something we’ll actually use in the real world? Wouldn’t that be crazy?
Well now I'm 25 and, after facing the whole you-need-to-make-money-to-pay-your-bills-so-you-can-live thing, I’ve become quite interested in my own personal finances. I like to know I’m getting the most out of the payroll deposits that appear in my bank account every two weeks. Since I didn’t learn any tips or tricks in school, I’ve been relying on advice from family, the lady at the bank, and randomly chosen self-help books on the subject.
Was personal finance taught at your high school? I’ve looked at Ontario’s Curriculum and I see that “Business Studies” (which includes financial literacy as a critical area of learning) has been in the curriculum since 2006. It says it’s offered in Grades 9 and 10 as a prerequisite for more specialized courses in Grades 11 and 12. The problem I have is that it is optional; how many high school kids take it? The reason it's not a mandatory class is because the Government of Canada does not consider financial literacy to be an "essential skill." Moreover, what if teachers don't have the confidence and expertise to teach it?
As for learning about something in school that we could apply to the real world, it’s pretty awesome that I can still recite the Pythagorean Theorem. I’m also pretty stoked about the fact that I haven't used algebra once in the seven years since I graduated from high school. I’ve definitely had to fill out tax returns though, and I’ve had to Google what the difference between mutual funds and GIC's is. I’ve read articles with titles like “Canadians’ household debt hits new record,” “Student debt overwhelming new grads,” and “Credit card debt is a vicious cycle.”
Raise your hand if you can name the three types of triangles. Now raise your hand if you understand how the stock market works. How about how RRSPs work or what RRSP stands for?
Hey, maybe curricula will change, but for those of us who missed the boat, it looks like we’ll have to learn the hard way.
Anna is an aspiring editor and writer with a background in accounting. She actually finds personal finance and the issue of financial literacy interesting. She grew up on a hobby farm south of Ottawa and enjoys animals, reading, and the weird and wonderful world of the internet.