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When the government of Ontario released its new elementary school math curriculum on June 23, one thing became crystal-clear: Financial literacy was finally in the spotlight.

When Ontario schoolchildren head back to school this fall, they will for the first time be learning everyday financial skills such as how to e-transfer money, the ins and outs of compounding interest, how to determine the cost of loans and lines of credit, and – certified financial planners rejoice – planning for and reaching financial goals. Following the financial literacy guidelines, children in Ontario may actually gain the rudimentary financial planning skills needed to earn, spend and save wisely into adulthood.

That is, if everything goes according to plan. But that’s a big “if.” Even without the questionable timing of rolling out a new plan during a pandemic that could possibly unleash a second wave come fall, there is precedence showing that introducing mandatory financial literacy comes with challenges.

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The elementary math update – the first since 2005 – comes one year after the province’s newly revised curriculum for the Grade 10 career studies course. That rollout has been problematic from the start, say some experts.

Launched July 2, 2019, and implemented last fall, the half-credit course represents the first time a financial literacy component has been mandatory in Ontario high schools, rather than merely slipped into elective business or accounting classes.

For Fred Masters, now a retired senior finance teacher at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener, Ont., that 2019 curriculum change – a culmination of countless meetings since 2016 and 29 pilot projects involving hundreds of students – meant an exciting opportunity for young people to learn real-world money management skills at school.

He should know. Before leaving teaching in 2018, Mr. Masters ran a lunchtime personal finance club for students.

“I didn’t know if anyone would give up their lunch period and listen to a teacher talk about money,” he says now. “And they came in waves. The sessions were packed. It was standing room only. Even the staff started to come.”

Now Mr. Masters is a financial literacy presenter, so when his former school board asked him last summer to create the teacher resource package for the financial literacy portion of the revised careers course, he wasn’t surprised. What did shock him was the curriculum document he had to work from.

“There were 19 course expectations in the new careers course, and only three dealt with financial literacy,” he says. “So that was just a huge missed opportunity for all students to learn key skills foundational for a successful life.”

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What’s more, much of the financial literacy portion of the new course focuses on developing a post-high-school budget, leaving only five or six remaining hours to teach everything else. Fortunately, budgeting will be covered in Grade 8, according to the new elementary curriculum, so one hopes the students will already have basic knowledge to draw from.

Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, director of education and community awareness for the Credit Counselling Society in Toronto, says the new high-school curriculum is a start, but would also like to see it cover topics such as how to pay bills and taxes. In other words, the boring but useful stuff – a deeper dive into what students will soon be expected to learn in grade school.

“As much as I appreciate Pythagorean theorem, I haven’t really used it too much in my everyday life,” she says. “We need to teach students really basic life skills so when they get into the world of work, they’re better prepared.”

The wish list

Fred Masters, a retired senior finance teacher and president of Masters Money Management, developed a teacher resource package for the new mandatory Grade 10 career studies course. Although the curriculum is a first step in helping students become financially literate in high school, he would like to see three further changes:

  1. Make it mandatory for every high-school student in Ontario to take a business course before graduation. Much of the material the new Grade 10 course is missing can often be found in business classes right now.
  2. Embed financial literacy into one strand of every high-school math course. (Practical lessons in math? Bring them on.)
  3. Every student must take one personal finance course in college or university. At that age, they’re ripe to learn real-world lessons.

-Kira Vermond

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Home schooling

Family in isolation? Kids can’t take one more day of TikTok videos? Shake it up with a few financial online resources and books for older kids and teens.

Because blogger and self-taught investor Barry Choi makes investing seem interesting and – gasp – fun.

Because the feds want you to see exactly how much you’re spending on interest when you don’t pay off your balance each month. Good lesson.

Because it’s a smart, snappy site with loads of financial calculators and information.

  • The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton

Because it’s a classic, quick read and packed with advice that actually sinks in.

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  • Millionaire Teacher, by Andrew Hallam

Because it teaches us what we wish we’d learned in high school.

  • Happy Go Money, by Melissa Leong

Because it digs deep into people’s relationship with money, not dry financial terms.

  • The Financial Diet, by Chelsea Fagan, Lauren Ver Hage

Because it uses everyday language and offers helpful tips for absolute beginners.

  • The Secret Life of Money, by Kira Vermond

Because this newly updated version for young teens tackles all kinds of money subjects adults don’t want to talk about.

-Kira Vermond

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