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Survey: What financial knowledge students wish they'd been taught

In March, the Ontario Government announced its intention to introduce financial literacy into the Grade 10 curriculum, through changes to the province’s Careers course. This spring, the Province is consulting with students, teachers and other advocates to understand what changes should be made to the curriculum.

With this backdrop, Forward Vision Games conducted an 8-question survey to solicit the input of Canadian youth about about their satisfaction with the financial literacy education they received, the financial literacy topics they wished they’d learned -- and the topics they believe that must to be taught in schools.

The results demonstrate a dissatisfaction with the status quo, a desire for practical, reliable and accessible financial education -- and a hunger for financial skill-building opportunities.

Dissatisfied with the Status Quo

Survey respondents were overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the financial literacy education they received in high school. Of 87 respondents, 93% were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the quality and relevancy of the financial literacy education they received in high school. Just 6% of students were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 1% of respondents were satisfied -- and no students were very satisfied.

Figure 1: Responses to question, "Overall, how satisfied are you with the quality and relevancy of the financial literacy education (skills and knowledge) you received in high school?" n=87.

Looking to Parents for Financial Literacy Advice

Among youth surveyed, the most common sources of financial information for young people while growing up were respondent's parents, the internet and financial institutions. Tellingly, ‘school’ was the least relied upon source of financial information amongst the survey sample.

These findings raise important questions about the accessibility of high-quality, reliable and unbiased financial information for Canadian young people. While parents can be a strong source of financial information, not all parents have a similar level of financial knowledge or have experience with new economic realities, like how function in the Gig Economy. Similarly, while financial institutions can be a great source of information about available financial products, opportunities to interact with financial institution professionals are becoming more scarce as banking moves online.

Figure 2: Responses to question, "Growing up, what were your main sources of information about managing your finances? (Please select all that apply)." n=87

Tell us about taxes, investing & financial planning

Of all financial topics, youth surveyed most wished that high school had provided them with information about taxes, investing and financial planning. These three topics were closely followed by a desire to know more about debt, household and personal budgeting and financial record keeping. Youth had the lowest level of interest in having been taught about financial history and Canadian financial institutions -- arguably the two subjects with the least day-to-day practical application for Canadian youth.

While the survey size was limited, these findings suggest that Canadian students are hungry for practical financial information on a wide range of financial topics. Over 50% of students surveyed expressed that they wish they had been taught more about 11 of the survey’s 14 financial literacy topics.

If we don’t learn it early, we’ll run into big trouble

The survey invited respondents to reflect on a critical moment when they realized they lacked necessary financial information or skills. The responses demonstrate that the stakes are high in properly educating Canadian young people about financial literacy. Responding students noted that a lack of financial literacy contributed to bankruptcy, debt, and an inability to purchase desired assets, such as houses -- the consequences of risky financial behaviour.

The critical moments when students realized they lacked necessary financial information or skills:

  • “Living on my credit card for a while and the credit card being declined. I realized then that I had no options and was in serious debt.”

  • “When considering purchasing a house and realizing I don't have the savings, nor do I have the credit history to make the purchase.”

  • “I thought you didn't have to file taxes if you earned under minimum wage. Big mistake.”

  • “When we had a baby and then realized we don't have enough money to survive.”

  • “I realized that I knew how to avoid spending money, but didn't know what to do when I saved it. I didn't understand being able to save while also having expenses, such as school and rent, or anything like that.”

The Top Topics Teachers Need to be Teaching their Students

Responding students believe that today’s teachers most need to teach students about budgeting, investing, debt and savings.

Many respondents expressed never having been taught how to create a basic budget, nor how to plan for both their expenses and their income or other revenue. One student noted, “I think that today's teachers need to be more instructive about debt and student loans...I also think that it would have helped if they had helped students budget for university and college with housing, transit, and other costs.”

In addition, students want to learn how to manage debt and save for the future. One youth noted, “[Teachers need to teach young people about] the importance of savings. We are facing an entire generation stricken with an obsession over instant gratification. A lot of work needs to go into educating youth on the realities we are facing as population ages and aren't financially healthy enough to retire.” Further, others noted that they learned how to avoid spending money, but never learned strategies for saving or investing their money.


The Forward Vision Games team wants to expresses our gratitude to the young people who took the time to complete our survey!

About the Author: Bronwyn Oatley is a social enterprise consultant and curriculum designer for Forward Vision Games, an education technology company that creates game-based financial literacy programming for high schools, post-secondary institutions, entrepreneurship programs and executive education programs. More of Bronwyn's writing can be found here.

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