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How young is too young to learn about mortgages?

There’s a push to add all kinds of new things to the mandatory school curriculum, from financial literacy to coding. But we just can’t have it all.


 
(Tim Hall/Getty Images)

(Tim Hall/Getty Images)

Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Flush. Author Robert Fulghum famously claimed all he really needed to know, he learned in kindergarten.

Last week, a report from TD Economics sought to add a few additional items to the kindergarten syllabus, including monthly budgeting, compound interest and retirement planning. “The need for strong financial literacy has never been higher,” writes TD chief economist Beata Caranci, citing rising household debt levels as a prime motivator for her campaign. “In order to prepare young people for financial decisions throughout their lives, financial education should be incorporated in the kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum in elementary grades.”

TD’s Caranci and other financial literacy advocacy groups, including the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, argue that money knowledge is an important skill best learned early in life. And her point about household debt is unarguable; a quick rise in interest rates could prove disastrous for many Canadians. As convincing as all this may sound, however, we’re not ready to demand kindergarteners put aside Lego to learn mortgage payment schedules. The banking sector, it turns out, isn’t the only group demanding a curriculum rewrite.

The Canadian Internet Registration Association and other high-tech industry groups frequently promote digital skills and computer coding as essential for Canadian elementary students. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians demands that CPR be made a compulsory high school diploma requirement. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada claims that “religious diversity courses must be mandatory in all provinces and territories.” The Toronto-based Association for Media Literacy argues for mandatory media awareness instruction throughout elementary and secondary schooling. The nastiness of the recent U.S. presidential election has revived calls within Canada for mandatory civics courses to turn students into thoughtful voters. In Ontario, an expert panel has recommended every high school student participate in a mandatory co-op work placement. Plus, school administrators are expected to promote everything from healthy eating and exercise to anti-bullying and anti-racism campaigns to concussion prevention and monitoring.

Taken in isolation, each demand appears virtuous, appropriate and entirely necessary. Who wouldn’t want future generations of students to know how to save lives, write code, find jobs, vote wisely, eat properly, invest prudently and avoid head injuries? The problem arises from a surfeit of virtue and shortage of time. Regardless of how necessary each may seem individually, there’s only so much time in the collective school day. Accepting every new demand for additional mandatory instruction time inevitably crowds out space available for educational basics. (It also bears mention that many of these additional topics were once considered best suited to parental instruction and individual discovery.)

Canada’s education system has long been a source of pride and strength for this country. International comparisons rank us as among the best in the world; a highly diverse student body makes this achievement all the more remarkable. Yet our rankings are starting to slip. On math, according to the Council of Ministers of Education, “there is a clear trend showing a decrease in average score in most provinces, as well as an increase in the number of countries outperforming Canada.” Our relative ranking in science has also slipped. If basic skills mastery is important—and we are aware of no group that claims foundational math and science are not vital to future student success—then it becomes necessary, particularly given recent results, to defend the core competencies of our education system from relentless encroachment, especially of courses on specialized life skills. This seems particularly important in elementary school, where fundamental knowledge and good habits are first learned.

If there is a case to be made for learning about money in school, let’s leave it to high school, where there are already compulsory or elective courses on the topic in all provinces and, given relentless advocacy from the financial sector, the trend appears in ascension. Quebec, for example, dropped a mandatory economics course in 2008 to make room for new religion and personal development programming; now it plans to bring it back.

Then there’s the issue of how to reconcile financial literacy with competing demands for a host of other, equally laudable, mandatory courses. Perhaps Nova Scotia has the solution here. Next year the province promises a new compulsory Grade 10 course called “21st-century citizenship,” offering civics, citizenship, digital and media literacy, personal financial management and other, unspecified “service learning” issues: a pedagogical grab bag of worthy and fashionable topics. Advocacy groups can thus argue amongst themselves over what should be included in this one course without threatening what’s truly important during the rest of the school day.

Doing so will also leave room for parents, grandparents, friends, neighbours, community groups, coaches and others to make their own important contributions to the educational journey of our children—outside the classroom.


 

How young is too young to learn about mortgages?

  1. Money knowledge is incorporated into Ontario’s curriculum starting in Grade 1.

  2. We have 6 hour school days, long holidays like March Break, Xmas and 2 months summer vacation. Much of what we call education is just filler, or killing time.

    School should be divided into practical and academic subjects, and should run all year round.

    ‘Homework’ should only involve documentaries from the BBC or Discovery channels and the like

    Provide courses online….and seek to teach mastery of a subject…..not just for marks

    In fact get rid of exams

    Lots of things that could be done…..just make sure it’s all based on science and reality.

    • All excellent points. If I could just add in something not as practical but certainly academic. I think MUSIC should be available in the curriculum. On a side-there are certainly many documentaries on the influence of music on learning available from the BBC or Discovery channel.

  3. I have no problem with kids learning financial literacy or mortgages, but I think the emphasis here has to be on creating a solid foundational base of arithmetic first. Giving a kid a calculator to determine simple compound interest, really isn’t solving the problem. Across Canada we have seen a significant decline in basic arithmetic skills that kids possess, and the response has been fierce: 3 provincial math petitions, and 1 national petition, all asking for the same thing: get our kids learning math properly. Abysmal math skills have led to a proliferation of tutors and parents to fill the gap. What happens to those kids who don’t have the same opportunity? Focus on fixing the math problem first, before jumping light years ahead to learning about mortgages.

    • Mortgages involve math…but if it’s one thing we don’t need it’s more math

      • What you do need is proper math instruction in order to figure out mortgages. What’s the point of talking about a mortgage if kids can’t even add or subtract properly?

        • We have arithmetic, then algebra, geometry, trig and calculus.

          Not necessary.

          • I would say not necessary if it’s math for the sake-of-math.

            However, for those students who eat up this stuff – I think the wider applications of math should be available as an option. As Tara points out the basics of math should be taught – I think starting with income taxes and how to read a pay cheque.

            I certainly ate up those advance math subjects which I think assisted me to where I am today. I may not have a cottage, a boat or a fancy sports-car. But I was able to semi-retire at age 42 and I haven’t hit my 50’s yet. For me math and the science/tech subjects were the largest influence.

          • Emilyone no you don’t. You have kids with very weak arithmetic skills who attempt alg/geom/trig and only get by thanks to tutors and parents. Many fall through the cracks or use calculators for the very basic procedures. Proper arithmetic involves daily practice, automaticity of times tables, long division, fractional arithmetic and mastery of math facts. These procedures are very rarely allowed in the classroom anymore and the evidence would support that. It’s all about 21st century/inquiry/discovery/problem solving learning. Proper math instruction has fallen by the wayside, and is actively being discouraged by education leaders and ed consultants.

            Check out http://www.wisemath.org to learn more.

          • No Tara I don’t

            You are one of the ‘back-to-basics’ crowd that hangs around schools preaching the ‘good old days’ stuff…if you had your way we’d all still be writing on slates.

            There used to be ‘just in case’ education’ which taught everything possible to use in a lifetime..because once you left school you were out for good

            Today we have ‘just in time’ education where you have education available all your life….and you learn things as and if you need them

            Everyone needs adding subtraction etc…..but most people don’t need algebra or trig etc…..if they ever do it’s available online. If you really love it, you can take it in university.

            And PS….buy a calculator. Better yet, a phone

          • Actually I’m all about moving forward to the fundamentals Emilyone, but you’re entitled to label me any which way you’d like. Doesn’t change the evidence: 1 in 3 kids now have to attend tutoring centres to learn basic arithmetic, and what methods are used to teach kids properly? Straightforward successful methods and not a calculator in sight. Too bad that can’t be done in schools anymore.

            Want more facts? Check out the last PISA round where it determined math skills our kids possess are the weakest EVER. EQAO results? Same. Regardless of your beliefs, and opinions, that doesn’t change the fact that kids math skills today are far worse than they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and not even close to what they were 40 or 50 years ago. Are you suggesting you’d rather deny our kids the knowledge base of basic math because it’s inconvenient? Limiting their futures, and denying them longstanding careers because its 2016?!?

            Suggesting that I’m part of the back to basics crowd is part of the rhetoric that progressives like to use to deflect from the fact that math education in Canada is on the decline. Those of us wanting better math instruction have the evidence to support our claims for how it needs to be done.

            Another major point you might want to chew on, is that a traditional form of education certainly didn’t seem to harm you, yet you’d rather deny it for our future generations of engineers, lawyers and doctors. Want your nurse to reach for the calculator next time he/she has to figure out your medication dosage, or would you prefer she just know the figures automatically? Or how about crossing that bridge that engineers built based on estimation and Google? Wouldn’t you rather have it created by competent, confident workers with a solid, funcitoning understanding of mathematics?

            We know more about kids and how they learn than ever before, and one things for certain: how they process information and use both their long term and short term memory is the same as it was 10, 20, 50 and 100 years ago. What is lacking, is solid instruction at the elementary level ensuring their fundamentals are strong. Believe the rhetoric all you want. Or look a little closer at those nations that Canada USED to be a part of when it came to outstanding education systems. Now we’re so far behind the leaders that we’re eating their dust.

            Thanks for stopping by, your comments are delightful. Your ignorance on the importance of Algebra shows how little you understand the significance of mathematics in the everyday tasks we do all day long. Keep your phone. I’ve got knowledge and mastery of math facts that will serve me long and well after the power/batteries run out on your phone. Good luck with that.

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