Teaching students about money in gym class: Roseman

Ontario has an ambitious plan to weave money management into school classes from grade 4 to graduation. It needs help to equip teachers to handle it


By Ellen Roseman http://www.mississauga.com/Portals/_default/Skins/Dailies/images/sprite.png) !important; background-position: 100% -562px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat !important;">

Education Minister Liz Sandals is at a Toronto school, watching students learn how to make decisions.

These Grade 8 students face a dilemma. Which high school do they attend next year? The one recommended by their parents and teachers? Or the one favoured by their friends?

Using a strategy of analyzing pros and cons, they talk about getting a better education and maybe a better job after attending the high school their mentors pick. Going to high school with their peer group may be more fun, but their education and career may suffer. Besides, their old friends may not stick around in high school.

I’m at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School to hear about the latest development in teaching financial literacy skills. The students are using a free resource, called Wallet Wellness, developed by a not-for-profit group calledOphea with exclusive financial partner TD Bank.

Ontario does not require a course in money management, as British Columbia does in Grade 10. Instead, it is trying to integrate financial literacy into every subject taught in schools (starting in Grade 4).

Wallet Wellness, part of the health and physical education curriculum, looks at how financial choices affect a person’s overall wellbeing. Teachers can find online activity cards to use with elementary students.

With a tool called Need It! Want It!, students learn about U.S. psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, shown in a pyramid ranging from food and shelter at the bottom to self-actualization at the top. They are urged to define their own wants and needs and share them with the group.

With another tool, Class Party!, students plan a gathering, taking dietary limitations into consideration. Everything must be nut-free, one has a gluten allergy and five are vegetarian. The group uses a worksheet and grocery store flyers to plan the party and stick to a budget.

Tom Hamza, head of the Investor Education Fund, was part of the Ontario working group that favoured integrating financial literacy into the school curriculum. He’s concerned the approach may be too ambitious.

Only a few of Ontario’s 110,000 teachers can do the integration on their own. It’s easy to work finance skills into math, business and economics classes, but what about drama classes? Can drama teachers develop a lesson plan about running a professional theatre company and staying solvent?

It takes government leadership and corporate support to weave money skills into every subject taught in schools, Hamza says. Both have been lagging behind – until this week’s event.

TD Bank is funding Ophea’s financial literacy work to the tune of $163,000. Linda MacKay, senior vice-president, retail savings and investing, explains the urgency by pointing to an Ipsos Reid survey for ABC Life Literacy in 2011.

Only 51 per cent of Canadians feel confident their math and money management skills will help them plan for a secure financial future. Among those in the 18-to-34 age group, 73 per cent say they could use help in making the most of their money.

As well as teaching younger students about wants and needs, Ontario has to focus on practical decisions for those in high school. How do they save for post-secondary education? How do they get student loans and repay them? How do they finance a new or used car? How do they take out and pay off a mortgage?

Sandals says she’s looking at integrating money into high school courses. She emphasizes that students are begging for more personal finance information. They’re ahead of the government on this score.

Let’s hope she uses her time at St. Francis of Assisi as motivation to do her homework and finish the assignment. Students need to become better spenders and savers. Schools have an important role to play in equipping them for this lifelong task.

Article courtesy of Toronto Star


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