Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Financial literacy in schools: Are we afraid of change?

I was so excited last week when I heard that the Ontario Ministry of Education had released its new curriculum guidelines for bringing financial literacy to the classroom this fall. Well, I have good news, bad news and scary news.

The good news
The good news is that Ontario teachers are getting some support. The Scope and Sequence resource documents provided by the ministry have several practical lessons on how to use the existing subject areas to teach students about money. Some examples are: using an art lesson to teach grade-four students how companies use images to promote their wares; and, getting grade-six students to think about why a game company might choose to advertise their newest release with a hip hop song instead of Beethoven.

Another bit of good news is that teachers have the opportunity (though not the mandate) to take a three-day workshop on financial literacy at the Ontario Teacher's Federation Summer Program called A Sound Investment. But none of this is mandatory. There are no prescribed learning outcomes for financial literacy. Teachers don't have to take the workshop, which brings me to the bad news.

The bad news
The bad news is that Ontario's weave-it-in-but-don't-make-it-mandatory approach to financial education, like British Columbia's, is not likely to have the learning outcomes we should be aiming for. Wouldn't it be great if the day after graduating from high school young people could walk into banks, insurance companies or brokerage houses and be able to clearly express their needs and wants in the appropriate language. Wouldn't it be fabulous if all high school grads had the confidence and ability to negotiate a reasonable price for whatever financial services they require.

It gets scary
The scary news is that more than a few adults don't care about the financial literacy of young people. Many seem to subscribe to the school-of-hard-knocks. And some think that because kids don't have much money, they don't really need to learn about it. While others believe that the family, and not the government-run education system, should take responsibility for this aspect of education.

Reading the comments posted in response to a Globe and Mail article on this issue, many people seem to believe that it is ironic that any overblown, deficit-ridden, budget-breaking government would try to teach anyone anything about money, especially about fiscal responsibility.

This leaves me wondering. Do we (if "we" is really the government leaders that we put in power as our representatives) really give two hoots about financial literacy in the preventative, educational sense? Or are we only interested in it as an anesthetic, a soothing fantasy stirred up in our collective imaginations by crashing markets and a double-dip recession? Are we scared to make financial literacy a mandatory part of the education system? Are we afraid of change?

Maybe we are
After all the false hype about mandatory financial education in Ontario, I'm left with two thoughts. First, at least some Ontario students will have teachers over the years who will use the workshops and resource documents to weave money topics into art, drama, music, health and physical education, math, language arts, science and technology and social studies.

Perhaps some of those students will graduate with a deeper understanding of the economy and personal finance and then go into politics. Though whether or not we will get enough financially fluent faces to do something about governmental fiscal irresponsibility, only time and our municipal, provincial and national bottom lines will tell.

Second, financial education will become mandatory in schools when we are no longer afraid of money or the powers that wield it.

Copyright 2011. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
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