B.C. Students Need a Passport to Financial Literacy

school classroom

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 mandatory 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?

Flickr: ms_sarahbgibson