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It’s Time to Lift the Curtain on Financial Literacy

Let’s talk money.

Or rather, the fear of not having any.

For many students, the topic of finances is difficult and scary. It is full of not knowing – not knowing how interest and loans work, not knowing how to file taxes, not knowing how to make a budget. Let’s not even approach the idea of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments. But our ignorance on finances does not make us immune to the consequences that can result.

I’m currently working multiple jobs this summer to be able to make up the difference between scholarships and my projected expenses for the coming school year. Exactly a year from now, I will be taking out a medical school line of credit and, for the first time in my life, will be in debt. A lot of debt – a fact that I am all too keenly aware of. Despite having taken two years of accounting in high school, I am no closer to being able to understand what this really means for my financial future than I was a decade ago. With Ontario students graduating from their undergraduate university degree with an average debt of $27,000 according to the most recent 2010 Statistics Canada data (and an average debt of $158,000 for Canadian medical school students according to the British Columbia Medical Association in 2011), financial literacy is an especially relevant topic for students.

Financial literacy was first added to the Ontario curriculum in 2011, teaching students in grades 4-8 the differences between needs and wants and how to create a budget. Even with this addition, the 2017 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results reveal that only 22% of Canadian teens could reach the top level in financial literacy – 87% were able to at least hypothetically record their bank transactions and pay their bills. But with the increasingly complex financial world that we live in, simply being able to pay bills and keep a log of transactions is not enough for these future adults to be financially successful and responsible.

The Ontario Ministry of Education recently announced that, starting in 2018, students will receive financial literacy education through the mandatory grade 10 careers course. This is a step in the right direction. Still, this leaves an entire generation of young adults who fall through the cracks. Students currently in postsecondary education have not received adequate education on the basic financial skills needed to function in society, such as filing taxes and understanding types of credit, let alone have the resources to make smart financial decisions moving forward.

It’s time for change. Universities, colleges and governments need to work together to maximize the reach that financial literacy education has amongst current postsecondary students. Until a plan is executed, myself and the hundreds of thousands of other students will continue to be in the dark when it comes to making financial decisions that could have long-lasting effects on our future.