Students often question the practicality of many subjects currently covered in the Ontario curriculum. A question every student has asked at one point in their high school career is “Why am I even learning this?” Although Grade 9 French and AP Calculus undoubtedly have academic value, most students will not use this knowledge on a day-to-day basis.

To address the lack of courses that teach students practical skills, the Ministry of Education may soon introduce a mandatory Financial Literacy course to Ontario high schools. According to Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter, the new curriculum will be integrated into the mandatory Grade 10 Careers course [1]. The course aims to improve the financial skills of Ontario students, which have been shown to be lacking even after they graduate high school. She hopes to launch a pilot course at twenty-eight high schools throughout the province,which will be fully integrated into all high schools by fall of 2018 if successful [1].

Though many critics argue that these types of courses are a hassle to implement and will not actually improve anything, this new addition is much needed in the Ontario high school curriculum—the current state of financial literacy in Canadian youth is far below satisfactory. According to the National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy (NRCYFL), only 44% of Canadian high school students use a budget to record expenses, and more than one in ten have shared information about their personal finances with others [2]. What’s even more troubling is that although 51% of youth carry debt, only half of them set aside money to repay them, while a quarter of youth do absolutely nothing. This leads to many financial issues that become more evident after students graduate university, as the average Ontario student will graduate with twenty-thousand dollars in debt from provincial loans [3]. With poor financial planning skills, a result of a lack of previous experience and training, many students struggle severely, which leads to a variety of other problems such as poor mental health [3]. From this, it’s clear to see that something must be done in order to prevent youth from falling into overwhelming debt.

Should the solution come in the form of mandatory financial literacy classes in schools? Does incorporating these programs into the current Grade 10 Careers course have a positive impact on financial literacy levels? The answer to both these questions is yes. According to NRCYFL, similar financial literacy courses have greatly improved the financial literacy of students. The study surveyed over three thousand high school graduates and found that 57% of them reflected that the courses “helped them manage their finances today” [1]. More importantly, 71% of those who took an extra financial literacy course remarked that even more time should be spent teaching the subject in school, further highlighting the importance of such courses.

All in all, regardless of what impact the course may actually have on the financial literacy of students, it’s undoubtedly an improvement from the previous Careers course. A study done by the Ontario Student Trustees Association in 2011 has shown that less than half of students would take the course if it were optional, suggesting that students didn’t learn substantial information in the course. Furthermore, 74% of high school students thought that the course was a waste of time, as there were too many personality tests and other irrelevant material.

It is quite evident that incorporating a mandatory course into the curriculum will improve the low standards of financial literacy in Ontario. Not only will it add more substance to the current Grade 10 Careers course, but it will also teach useful life skills to teens entering the adult world. With this new addition, more than six hundred thousand students in Ontario will finally have the chance to learn something applicable to their daily lives [4].

Illustration: Amy Yan