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Financial Literacy Back to School Newsletter

Ermanno PascuttoAs students head back to school this week, our monthly newsletter tackles the issue of financial literacy.

FAIR Canada’s mandate of advocating for shareholder rights and the protection of individual investors does not usually focus on financial literacy. But financial literacy is at the core of much of what we do to ensure a level playing field and fair treatment for financial consumers.

When I graduated from high school in 1972, the school curriculum did not include financial life skills. I remember being taught all sorts of things in school that did not interest me, and for which I would never have any real use for in life. I probably would have had more interest in math if it could be related to how I could become a millionaire—a particularly attractive goal for a child of a poor immigrant family. Also, since my parents had poor English language skills, I was expected to help deal with financial matters like the mortgage. I would be surprised if the same were not happening today with non-English speaking immigrant families.

When my children graduated from high school a few years ago, the situation had not changed – financial literacy was still not part of the curriculum. Young Canadians enter the working world without knowledge of financial matters such as credit, mortgages, investments and pension plans. Yet they need basic financial life skills to fend for themselves in an increasingly complex financial world.

The U.S., U.K. and New Zealand have national strategies to improve financial literacy. In other jurisdictions, financial literacy is recognized as an important tool for economic growth and workforce competitiveness as well as for navigating personal financial matters. Canada has begun to play catch-up with a burgeoning financial literacy movement. There are many interesting initiatives from governments, securities commissions, financial service providers, non-profit organizations and community groups.

It is time for Canada to develop a comprehensive national strategy for financial literacy. In order for financial literacy to become a national priority, it needs leadership at the highest level – from the Prime Minister and the Premiers.

They must lead the charge to get all the major players onside, including the education system. In this newsletter, we include the following:

  1. Financial Literacy Matters is FAIR Canada’s survey of the problems facing Canada in this field and the many efforts to address them. We describe the emerging consensus of what must be done, and the limitations of financial literacy education.
  2. Ellen Roseman, the consumer financial affairs columnist for the Toronto Star, financial literacy educator, and member of FAIR Canada Board member writes about the need for consumers to develop a more skeptical attitude.
  3. “What it Really Takes to Change Financial Literacy” is an article by Tom Hamza, Executive Director of the Investor Education Fund;
  4. Patricia Bowles of the British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) writes about the challenges that BC overcame when they introduced a life skills course into the high school curriculum;
  5. Ed Waitzer’s report, Education No Substitute for Regulation, originally appeared in the Globe and Mail. Formerly on the FAIR Board and former OSC Chair, Ed now heads the Hennick Centre at York University.
  6. “Against Financial Literacy Education,” a short synopsis of a provocative article by U.S. Law Professor Lauren Willis.
  7. Links to a broad array of financial literacy resources for more information.

October 02, 2009