Financial literacy: Helping kids succeed in the classroom

 

We released our National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy to coincide with the launch of Canada’s first Financial Literacy Month. The media response to the survey has been excellent.

 

They focused much of their attention on the incredible optimism of these kids. For example, when asked how much they’ll be making in 10 years, the average answer was $90,000. The actual average wage for that age group is just over $31,000.

 

It’s obvious from the findings that there is a need to temper their enthusiasm with some realistic thinking. One way to do this is by introducing financial literacy programs into schools.  However, the study also showed us that rushing financial literacy courses into the schools could do more harm than good.

 

“Simply having taken a financial literacy course or not having taken one at all has little impact on financial attitudes, behaviour, and knowledge,” the survey concluded. “To have an impact, courses need to be both comprehensive and delivered in an effective and interesting format. Having a bad course experience produces financial literacy outcomes similar to having not taken a course at all.”

 

When I read this finding, it resonated with me. I struggled in Grade 11 math class. This wasn’t because I was bad at math – it was just that the course wasn’t interesting, nor was it being taught well. In the end, I got a decent grade, but I struggled the next year because of the experience I had in Grade 11. It wasn’t until college when I took a mathematics class that was well taught that I started to enjoy the subject again.

 

In our experience, creating a good course for students and teachers takes a lot time and effort. The BCSC has been at it since 2004, providing a free The City: Financial Life Skills for Planning 10 resource to BC teachers. We’ve worked hard to ensure it is contemporary and meeting teacher’s needs, including a completely updated version that was published last fall. We know teachers like it, because teachers in all of BC’s school districts use it.

 

We also know that it is important to train teachers how to use the resource.

 

We have learned that most teachers never took a financial literacy course in high school. So, we’ve even taken it a step further, and now do workshops with student teachers to introduce them to our resource and to show them how to teach financial literacy in a way that will get the students involved.

 

So far, so good.

 

BC and Alberta performed higher than the national average on the financial literacy test that was included in the survey –  42% of BC graduates scored an “A” or higher followed by Alberta graduates at 37%, above the national average of 35%. 

 

One explanation for this result is the fact that BC and Alberta both have comprehensive financial life skills courses in their high school curriculum. Another reason could be that the courses are well taught, and enjoyed by the students who take them. While we did a little bit better in BC than the rest of Canada, we have no reason to be smug.  We too have a long way to go before BC can say it has done its job.

 

Whatever the explanation, most of us can probably agree that kids, like adults, respond well to courses that capture their interest and imagination.

 

With this in mind, it would be great to hear some ideas from you on how we can better teach financial literacy. Let us know what you think.