Expert Q&A | Cary List

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Expert Q&A: Cary List

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Q: What skills or literacies will today's students need to prepare them for the future?

A: Most importantly, to excel, I believe that students should have a respectful relationship with money. They should have a solid understanding of budgeting, debt and credit, and should understand the impact that today's financial decisions may have on tomorrow. An awareness of the basics of saving, investments, government savings and retirement vehicles is also valuable.

Students should understand the concepts of taking an integrated, comprehensive approach to their financial affairs, as well as basic concepts (e.g. how a single financial decision can have implications on other areas of one's financial situation, potentially for the long term). Students should know the right questions to ask their financial professionals, and the right sources to seek out for the right information (e.g. how to research an adviser or planner's qualifications and ask the necessary questions before handing over money or personal information). While understanding all the details of Canada's complex financial system is not for everyone, knowing what advice is available and by whom, and understanding how and when to ask for advice is important for all and will prepare students for the financial world of the future.

Q: What are the challenges in teaching these skills and literacies to students?

A: I believe financial literacy needs to be recognized as an essential life skill, as important as reading and physical fitness. It should be taught as a social science, not just as part of a math class. For example, a class on budgeting–which focuses exclusively on calculating numbers and how to prepare a budget–does not necessarily teach financial life skills. However, a budgeting class that focuses on the decisions and trade-offs that go into making a budget, rather than just the mathematics of it, will help students understand the issues, challenges and underlying emotional impact of financial decisions. These are much more critical teachings. Easier access to credit and a growing "consumer culture" have made it increasingly difficult for students to create good financial habits. A big challenge is going to be finding appropriately qualified teachers of these skills.

It is also critical that financial literacy programs receive buy-in from parents, students and school boards. There has to be a network of support and encouragement. Additionally, financial literacy programs must be unbiased and independent; all aspects must be free of undue private-sector marketing and influence.

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Q: How will teaching these new skills change the role of schools and educators, both inside and outside the classroom?

A: Teaching financial literacy can serve as an introduction for students to careers in the financial services sector, an area of tremendous future demand according to both demographic and industry studies. If students are exposed to–and gain an appreciation for–financial issues early on, they are more likely to be interested in a career in financial services. As demand for financial advice and planning increases, we need to ensure there is a supply of competent financial planners to meet this demand. Schools and educators can therefore play a big role in attracting youth to the financial sector and ensuring that Ontario remains competitive on the national stage and continues to be an international financial hub.

Q: How can educators best learn these new literacies they should be teaching?

A: In order for teachers to be successful in teaching financial literacy, it is critical to address the competencies of teachers and ensure they are comfortable and passionate about teaching this material. In British Columbia, for example, the British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) has recognized that there is a defined skill set required to teach this subject. BCSC recruits teachers from B.C. teachers' colleges and through focused training sessions gives them the skills they need to teach the high school financial literacy course.

—Cary List
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