Paulina Leszczynski

Many millennials are finding themselves in a poor financial situation, with substantial debts and limited to no savings. One potential explanation for this could be a lack of knowledge around financial management. Practical, real world skill-sets around personal finances were not necessarily emphasized in the curriculum in previous generations, but in recent years, financial literacy for students has moved to the forefront of discussions with hopes of addressing the gap in the current curriculum.

It’s not just about counting coins and decimal places; we’re at a point where looking at beliefs and behaviors around money is the focus. When a class of grade 5 students in Victoria, B.C. were asked if they would go to school if they didn’t have to, the answers came as somewhat of a surprise. Most students said yes, providing reasoning such as “[having] the ability to eventually get a good job, support their future families, buy a home and have a better life.”

Attitudes around financial planning are changing, so the current curriculum needs to reflect that. Having a comprehensive, in depth financial literacy component more widely available for students will better equip them with the tools they need for their future.

It’s hard to argue against improving financial education in schools – Canadian household debt levels are at an all-time high, with Statscan reporting that Canadians have $1.68 in credit-market debt for every dollar of disposable income. According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, “Financial literacy is a vital skill for individuals.” So if the general consensus is in favor of financial literacy in the classroom, why is this topic not already adopted across curriculums nationwide? The implementation may not be as easy as we think, coming with its own unique set of challenges.

The Challenges:

Time is a factor
Teachers already have their hands full with the demands of the current curriculum, which is typically very subject heavy, so introducing new content can be a daunting task. With so many competing priorities, a “one size fits all” approach for implementation may not be the answer.

Not knowing when or where to start

The topic of financial literacy is broad and ranges in complexity. That’s why it can be tough to determine where in the curriculum it fits. There are many layers in FinLit – from the basics of understanding money, needs, and wants, to grasping the concept of credit scores, investments, loans etc. There isn’t a handbook on how early to introduce these concepts. Additionally, some areas of financial literacy are more specialized and complex. Should teachers be expected to take courses on such topics? Or should financial literacy offerings be simple enough that they shouldn’t have to?

Real World Learning Matters

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Need for engaging content
Financial literacy can be tedious to teach and considered “boring” by students, especially if they aren’t seeing an immediate need for it. If you’re teaching personal finance to high school, elementary or middle school students, where they are attempting to conceptualize content that will help them 10-20 years down the road, it might be tough to keep them engaged if they don’t see it as relevant to their life now.

It is important to help students in any grade to see the practical applications of smart financial planning, but the approach needs to be able to reach the modern audience. “We have to make it interesting” says Moshe Milvesky, a Finance Professor at York University, further expressing that, while an interesting topic for experts in the field,  “for most people, their eyes glaze over. We have to reduce the glaze effect.”

In general, the way students are learning now is significantly different from previous generations. There is much more of a blended learning approach, and content needs to be stimulating, interactive, and engaging.

How we can address some of these challenges?

Find a curriculum that works for your classroom

Setting a financial literacy curriculum with attainable goals that makes sense for your classroom is key for successful implementation. Ask yourself:• How much time do I have available to teach the information?
• Is the curriculum aligned with provincial standards?
• Does the curriculum offer flexibility?
• Can I adapt this particular curriculum to fit my students needs?

Implementing a financial literacy curriculum is often seen as a challenge because it can be so complex, layered, or even broad. However, this could actually be a benefit to the implementation process because it can be applied across subject areas, including health, career or planning classes, social studies, and math.  

Seek out supplemental resources
One way to boost interest in financial literacy content is by incorporating technology into the classroom and taking advantage of supplemental resources as part of the blended learning experience. Digital learning platforms and gamification expose students to content in an exciting way which helps avoid monotony. There are many resources available online for teachers that can meet academic needs, while also engaging students.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has a library of resources to celebrate Financial Literacy Month. EVERFI provides engaging digital lessons in financial literacy at no cost to teachers, schools and districts. For students in Grades 4-6, FCAC recommends Vault – Understanding Money, a 6-lesson digital course with offline content to complement the online content in budgeting, saving, careers and more.

Paulina Leszczynski is a Schools Implementation Manager located in Vancouver, B.C., who supports educators and students in districts across western Canada. She enjoys hockey, rocking her cheesehead (go Greenbay!) and snowboarding through those long Canadian winters.