B.C. Students Need a Passport to Financial Literacy

If you’ve been following my blog since I made my final debt repayment last May, you’ve probably seen a post or two here about my thoughts on the current level of personal finance that is weaved into B.C.’s Education IRPs. Well, I recently found out that the Ministry of Education is doing a complete overhaul to curriculum, focusing first on K-9, then moving onto 10-12 and the graduation requirements.

When I visited the website to read about the redesigned Math curriculum, you can imagine the smile that came across my face when I saw “financial literacy” among the four bullet points of “what’s new”. The goal of the new curriculum is “to ensure students are financially literate and able to make sound financial decisions”, which sounds a little too broad to me, but still, it seems as though it’s a top priority for the Ministry.

Or is it?

As I went through the revised “concepts and content” for each grade, I found myself consistently underwhelmed with what I read:

Grade 1 – Recognize and describe coins
Grade 2 – Values of coins
Grade 3 – Monetary denominations, using coins and bills
Grade 4 – Monetary calculations, purchasing and change
Grade 5 – Simple financial plans
Grade 6 – Percentage discounts
Grade 7 – Financial percentage calculations (ex. discounts, taxes, tips, etc.)
Grade 8 – Best buys
Grade 9 – Personal budgets

I could be wrong, but Grades 1 through 8 look pretty similar to what I learned about money in school. So, I’m not exactly sure “what’s new” about this curriculum, other than perhaps the “simple financial plans” that need to be taught in Grade 5. And that’s ok – I don’t know that there needs to be an overhaul on what’s taught to students in these grades – but I would hardly say these are “new” concepts.

Where I got excited was obviously the one new concept that Grade 9 students need to learn: personal budgets. I’ve only seen personal budgets taught in Planning 10, before this, which is an elective that most students skim through and don’t think twice about. By putting this concept into a standard course, like Math 9, that students would be tested on, it could help make the information stick.

However, since Grade 9 is the first year of high school for B.C. students (who go through middle school), I’m now even more anxious to see what will be outlined in the new 10-12 curriculum. I won’t hold my breath, but it would be great to see personal finance lessons put into a more condensed format – either in a course of its own, or at least in more of the regular, mandatory courses (not just in Planning 10).

One idea I’ve become obsessed with is that our high school curriculum would change so all students would need to complete a “passport to financial literacy” in order to graduate; that’s what students in Oklahoma have to do. Before graduating, students need to demonstrate an understanding of 14 money management concepts, including: budgeting, banking, investing, loans, insurance, taxes, identity theft, retirement planning, home buying and mortgages. These lessons must be taught between Grades 7 through 12, and it’s up to the individual schools to decide when and how they will be offered.

With B.C.’s new learning standards being put in place – which will make it so the Ministry can define “what” to teach but not “how” to organize or teach it – I don’t see why something similar couldn’t be established as a new graduating requirement for students here. Especially because, “Districts and schools are encouraged to combine learning standards in various ways to create cross-curricular units, modules, mini-courses, and courses tailored to the learners in their communities”. Lessons could be offered between Grades 9 through 12, in a cross-curricular framework with all teachers on board.

As journalist Dan Kadlec says about Oklahoma’s passport to financial literacy program, “High school graduation is a critical money moment in a young person’s life. They likely are staring at staggeringly high college loans or preparing to set up a household and take on myriad new expenses. They could wind up with debts that haunt them for decades. One of the main points of this kind of instruction is to help young adults avoid a rough start—or at least understand what they are getting into.” Since we know that B.C. students expect to graduate with more student debt than students in any other province, I think it’s time we get serious about educating them on what they can do to prepare for their financial future today.

I wonder if there’s a high school in B.C. that would be willing to pilot and launch a financial literacy program like this?

    • It’s definitely too soon to tell… but seriously, I wonder how “forcing” kids to take lessons on these things could ever be a bad thing?

  • In high school, I avoided Calculus by taking a business math course. It was one of the most helpful courses I’ve ever taken. It demonstrated the importance of budgeting, went through the basics of stock markets and different investment options, and loan options. When it came time to take out student loans, I was able to find the best possible ones using the theories I learned in that class.

    But most people didn’t take business math because they thought it was a slack off class or that it would look bad on their transcript. To a point, they were right, but I am still reaping the benefits of it now!

  • I left high-school without any sort of personal finance or general economics understanding whatsoever. Schools could/should do so much more to prepare children for the real financial world. People who make better personal finance decisions are more likely to hold government to similar standards. Overall society is MUCH better off if citizens are wise money managers.

    I think a passport to personal financial literacy is a great idea. People may not use the biology they take in school – but they’ll certainly use the money management skills.

    • All great points, Jack! One thing I’ve personally given up on, however, is the argument that “I had to learn about X, which I don’t even use”. For example, biology actually taught me a lot – and I had a hilarious teacher, who made the class that much more memorable. I wasn’t great at it, but I did enjoy parts of it.

      The “standard” courses can show us what we’re good at (i.e. I excelled at English and anything computer-related), which can help us choose our potential career paths. But a personal finance class is something we would ALL benefit from because it’s about the one thing we will all use until the day we die.

  • This is exciting! I sure would be interested to see what the principles behind the ‘personal budget’ in grade 9 will be – and you’re right…hopefully they get into some more advanced topics in 10-12!

  • I’d love to see high school students be exposed to a class that would require them to make a budget, and teach them ALL of the things they need to account for from housing to car payments, to utilities, food, etc.

    Then start moving them through life phases….how will your budget change when you get married? How about a unit on having to make that budget with a partner? How does your budget change when you have a baby?

    And also on that list, a subject near and dear to my heart……..the consequences of screwing it all up. :)

  • The same problem exists in the U.S. We spend all sorts of time and money teaching kids to earn as much money as possible, but we spend hardly anything teaching those same kids how to adequately manage that money. It’s a real disservice.

  • Well, I’m underwhelmed by most of that as well. I am very intrigued by the Oklahoma stuff though! I’m going to have to read up on it.
    I think there should be budgets much earlier, so that by the time they get to grade 9, they’re making full-blown adult ones. We had to do one in CAPP 10, but it wasn’t tangible enough. It was only expenditure side, not income side. So basically we could just pick numbers, they weren’t “real” to us in any way.

    • CAPP – that’s what I had to take too, and I don’t remember ANY money lessons in it. But I totally agree that students shouldn’t be playing around with random numbers. Let’s give them an actual paycheque – one they’ll likely learn in high school and/or as a college student, working part-time – and see what they can do with it. Then move onto other (realistic) scenarios.

  • Um, my kindergartener is already on the grade 3 stuff, with some budgeting knowledge already in play. If these “new” curriculum notes are implemented, he’ll be going backwards. I know they need to ensure their curriculum is inclusive but I feel like this is too simplified. Kale gets an allowance for chores performed and half must be saved, and he can do what he’s like with the other half. Right now his target is set on a particular water gun, so he is saving it too. Kids already get money, they need to learn what to do with it.

    • Now I’m curious where Kale goes to school (you don’t have to share here). They’re doing things right. :)

  • This is great news. It will help the younger kids understand how to handle money in my opinion. Even though they might not act on it for the first few years, that money foundation knowledge will be there when they are ready.

    • Exactly. By Grade 9, I imagine most kids have already been using money in some capacity – and potentially even earning it. So there’s no reason we shouldn’t be moving past the basic lessons, and teaching them the next things they’ll need to know about!

  • I feel like this is more than what kids here in Ontario are getting. The most I recall learning was in a unit that focused on researching how much it would costs to move out and live on our own. But this was in grade nine when most students didn’t have so much as a part-time job. It’s hard to conceptualize how a budget works when you’ve never had an income aside from allowance.

    After that, the only students that got any financial literacy education were students in the college stream (an Ontario thing that designates specific courses that are geared towards college-bound students). In the university stream all you got was calculus and algebra. Super.

    I’m hoping things have changed since then and, if not, I hope they only continue to get better because this stuff is IMPORTANT. Young people shouldn’t have to be learning their financial skills the hard way.

    • Even if it’s hard to conceptualize something like that, you obviously still remember that lesson being taught. I sure don’t!

      I haven’t really looked at Ontario’s curriculum, but I remember reading a few years ago that financial literacy was a top concern. I also know that groups like Investor Education Fund (IEF) do I lot of work with high school students in Ontario.

  • This is really interesting! I think it would be so valuable to continue these mandatory courses through college/university as well- when you potentially have left home for the first time and are dealing with bills and money on your own.

  • Would be interesting to see some research results comparing long term financial situations of households in Oklahoma to its nearby States. I think getting a school in B.C. to try out a similar program would be a neat idea.

    Why don’t we get all the PF bloggers around here, and have us all give lectures to a grade 10 or 11 class as a pilot program. Each blogger can talk about one topic like debt, budgeting, mutual funds, insurance, etc. The lectures would replace their current CAPP lessons. And for their homework, the students must read the PF blogger’s website and comment on the latest articles :D Let’s talk to some school boards Cait and see if we can make this happen ;)

    • You’re probably joking about the blogger stuff, but talking to a school board re: piloting a financial literacy program is on my fantasy to-do list. :)

  • AFAIK we don’t have anything at all in NZ schools (though I believe my bank is behind some sort of financial literacy programme for schools, not sure how that works or how many use it). I think it would be amazing.

    • Banks sponsor some programs that are taught here too – but not all schools participate and, therefore, not all students get the same experiences / knowledge passed onto them. Hence why I think it should become mandatory. :)

  • Last I heard, Planning 10 was mandatory, not elective. I had to take it, and it was a complete waste of my time. The only budget we learned was how to budget a vacation with something like $5,000 it was ridiculous. We didn’t learn anything important and the teachers had no idea what they were supposed to be teaching us about.
    My husband learned absolutely nothing about finances from school OR his family. He didn’t even know how much student loans he had, the interest rate, OR that they expected him to pay them back when he dropped out after two months and kept all the money. He didn’t even open bills when we met! *facepalm*

  • I really wish money management was made more of a priority in school. I don’t think I learned anything about finances in school, and I’m sure it would have helped a lot of students, especially when it came to student loans and tuition payments.

    • I never took out student loans, so I don’t know enough about what college and university financial aid depts. mention to students… or if they offer any sort of free info sessions? Nonetheless, it would be better to have an initial lesson on it while still in high school. :)

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