Provinces like Ontario and Alberta are taking steps to expand their education curriculum to include basic financial literacy. After gathering feedback on the changes, both governments are planning to roll out new coursework as early as 2018.
We contacted Jim Yih, an Edmonton-based financial expert and the creator of RetireHappy.ca for his take on moving money management talks into the classroom.
Laurel Gregory: What do you think about financial literacy being taught in schools?
Jim Yih: It’s good. Conceptually, I think it’s awesome. The perspective is: we do financial education in the workplace and everyone we talk to — everybody — overwhelmingly says, ‘They should teach this in school.’ And we’re talking about retirement topics. Everyone says, ‘Yes, we should learn this in school.’ So universally I don’t think anyone will disagree… it’s the details, it’s the implementation that’s the tough part.
LG: When you think of someone graduating high school, which topics would be appropriate for them to learn at that stage?
JY: Obviously, some basics like banking and that’s changing and evolving too. We used to write cheques. Do we need to teach people to write cheques now? No. Everything is online, cellphone. We need to teach them about identity theft and being careful about how you use credit cards or the phone tap or these kinds of things.
The big topic that is getting people into trouble is debt. So we have to talk about some awareness of what is getting people into trouble, how do you manage debt?
When you go to post secondary education, there’s people walking out of university with $100,000 of debt, so is that a good thing? Because it becomes so easy to spend and use it.
LG: How should financial literacy be taught in schools?
JY: The answer is I don’t know (laughs). It’s a tough one because the financial industry is supposed to be somewhat specialized. So we have a certain level of knowledge and we can help people. Should we bestow that on teachers? Is that fair to teachers? Should teachers have to take courses in order to be able to teach this? Should the concepts be so basic that they don’t have to take courses? Should we just meld financial concepts into the math curriculum? Instead of one plus one, one dollar plus a dollar equals two dollars. I don’t know the answer to that. But I know that it’s been a challenging topic in having these discussions is how do we add more into a curriculum that is already full, right? I don’t know the answer.
LG: What about the notion that it’s up to parents?
JY: My personal opinion is it is up to parents. But is it working? Not necessarily. Even in our workshops I ask the question, ‘How many of you went to a course about money?’ Most people learn informally and that’s typically from parents but most people are not having these conversations. Most people don’t know how to teach money concepts to their kids unless they’re really passionate about those issues. How many parents are teaching their kids the wrong things just through their actions?