Get smart financially in Grade 10

Ask a Toronto teenager what RRSP, TFSA or OSAP stands for and you may get a confused or blank stare..

Ask a Toronto teenager what RRSP, TFSA or OSAP stands for and you may get a confused or blank stare.

Financial literacy among Canadian youth is low. A recent survey of 400 high school students in Ontario by the Investor Education Fund found that only 25 per cent of respondents said they knew about money and made the right spending decisions. Only three out of 10 indicated that they were actively saving for post-secondary education.

Members of the Toronto Youth Cabinet are trying to change that. Since October, theyve been campaigning to have financial literacy added to Career Studies, a mandatory half-credit class taught in Grade 10.

Early in November, the TYC met with the Ministry of Education, and the next day the Ontario government announced its intention to make financial literacy a priority in schools.

Toronto resident Prakash Amarasooriya spearheaded TYCs campaign and is assisting in the development of the program. The School Boards Working Group lead volunteer and recent York University grad, Amarasooriya became interested in money at 15 when both his parents lost their jobs in Torontos auto manufacturing industry. He worked five part-time jobs in order to pay for university before completing high school at Weston Collegiate Institute.

Once I started saving money, I realized how awesome it was, the 23-year-old says. Because of my environment, saving became a habit.

An economics course he took in his final year while majoring in kinesiology gave him more fuel.

That course taught me a lot of the basics, like supply and demand. It taught me about the world and how it reacts, he notes.

It was when Amarasooriya began working as a teller at TD Bank after graduating from York that he realized how many people struggle financially and dont know what to do with their money.

I noticed that these habits are sometimes taught to their children, he adds. They think its normal to live off an overdraft or live paycheque to paycheque and be very close to zero in your bank account.

He sees mandatory financial education in schools as a way to break the cycle. Students tend to start part-time jobs during their Grade 10 year and are near the legal age for obtaining a credit card. Theyre also two years away from post-secondary education and potentially applying to the Ontario Student Assistance Program. Amarasooriya argues that learning about OSAP earlier in high school might benefit students needing to apply.

Other topics on TYCs curriculum proposal include earning and saving money, budgeting, taxes, investing and the economy. Among their recommendations: basic explanations of different types of bank accounts, retirement plans, loans and insurance.

Currently, financial literacy is addressed in relatively abstract terms. Students are taught simple and compound interest in Grade 11 math and how annuities work in math 12, although credit for math 12 is not required for an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. A course called Mathematics For Work And Everyday Life is offered as an elective, though not at all high schools.

Financial industry workers from the Canadian Bankers Association and other groups have volunteered to give presentations at high schools, but whether banks and financial institutions will be involved in the new curriculum is not yet clear.

Although Amarasooriya works for a bank, he doesnt believe they should have input.

The school boards and the Ministry of Education are always cautious about having external partners involved, he says. Financial institutions should not be directly involved due to conflicts of interest.

In British Columbia, financial literacy was added to the Grade 10 curriculum as part of Planning 10, a similar career planning course, in 2007. According to the curriculum outline, students spend approximately 20 hours learning about budgeting, types of bank accounts, credit and debt, as well as the cost of education and career options.

Prince Edward Islands Department of Education made it a graduation requirement in 2015 that Grade 10 students in the province complete a course called Career Exploration And Opportunities, also known as CEO. Its meant to help them become self-directed individuals who set goals, make thoughtful decisions and take responsibility.

Provinces across the country are following suit and developing their own financial literacy curricula although progress is slow. For the most part, students are expected to develop their own skills and interests around money, which is why a growing number of post-secondary institutions have also started offering finance courses outside the economics and business faculties.

Ryerson Universitys financial services department offers a free six-week program called RU Debt Free to all students, tackling everything from budgeting tools to bank accounts, credit ratings and student loan repayment. At York University, the schools library services offer free lunchtime talks throughout the year on tax planning, using credit cards, fraud prevention and managing debt.

Students are fed up with not learning skills that are essential to adult life, Amarasooriya says. An online petition launched by TYC has nearly 1,000 signatures and the support of members of both the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The thing I like about financial literacy is that it doesnt matter if you want to go into the arts or business or health or a trade. Its good to know these things, says Amarasooriya. We learn about mitochondria and parabolas in school. This is just as much a life skill that people need. | @michdas

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