School needs more courses on life lessons
Dave Gordon - Wednesday, 14 September, 2011
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As children went back to school, they began learning the 3 Rs - but they'll also learn a fourth R, revenue.
Ontario students will learn about saving, spending and investing money as early as Grade 4, as Queen's Park rolled out a new financial literacy curriculum.
Prompted by growing debt levels among Canadian youth and out-of-control spending habits, the province designed economic lessons that can be worked into any classroom subject, up to Grade 12.
The initial idea gained traction with provincial politicians after former Toronto school trustee and current Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow called for a curriculum in financial basics in the wake of the world economic crisis.
The goal of the new curriculum is to teach children about basics such as budgeting, how to read the fineprint of credit card contracts, how to manage debt, how to avoid debt, and how advertisers target them.
It's evident parents aren't doing well financially - and likely not passing along financial acumen to their kids. The statistics showing how lousy most of us grownups are at money management might shock you.
As of January 2010, student loan debt owed to the federal government surpassed a record $13 billion (the figure does not include provincial student loan debt).
And according to a study by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 60 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 29 are carrying some debt; more than a third owing $10,000 or more.
Last February, the Vanier Institute of the Family reported the average Canadian is $100,000 in debt. That's twice as much as 20 years ago.
Thus, starting our young children on the how-tos of money could prevent a litany of problems down the road.
In addition to what's learned in school, one of the best ways children can learn the meaning of money and responsibility is to have them find a job for weekends or after school. Why not have local job postings in the classroom geared toward our kids?
From there, they can learn how much money should be spent, and how much to save, in a tangible way - not just theoretical.
What they earn could be partitioned according to a rule I learned only later in life, what I call "10-20-30-40": 10 per cent for charity, 20 per cent for today's enjoyment, 30 per cent put aside for 10 years hence and 40 per cent for 20 years hence.
Such a formula ensures a 10-year-old with a paper route, babysitting or snow shovelling job or lemonade stand has an eye toward the future's university tuition and car payments.
It helps them learn there are hard-earned, good rewards for saving money. It also teaches them delayed gratification - a lesson our "one click and instant" generation could use.
With these guidelines, by the time they're working during university, they've already been saving up to pay off their future mortgage and might own a house outright before they're 40.
So maybe it's time that children are taught even more courses in school that truly prepare them for life.
Why stop at financial literacy in schools? This is a great time to roll out other life lessons for schoolchildren as well.
For example: how to find the right spouse/life partner, a preventive strategy given the 50-per-cent divorce rate.
Or how about "how to disagree without being disagreeable", to ease interpersonal conflicts, the source of so many of life's headaches and stresses?
And given how many people's lives are in disarray, let's add time management skills.
And finally, in older grades, a course on good parenting.
You need lessons to get behind the wheel of a car - there should similarly be a course in school on how to raise a child.
For the most part, we've succeeded in drilling into teens' heads how to stay protected during sex so as not to have children too soon, but when they do have children, they're generally clueless as to what to do with them.
A course in child rearing could be the ounce of prevention needed to avert future crime and perhaps a litany of psychological woes.
At least with financial literacy skills learned in elementary school, the good news is they'll hopefully be able to budget to afford children.