Everyone remembers their first paying job – the thrill of being called back, the interview butterflies, the sudden surge of apparent maturity and all the adjustments that come with entering into the workplace for the first time. Perhaps that first pay stub is secreted away somewhere for safekeeping, a reminder of where we started out on our path toward independence and personal growth. In tandem with the rigors of new employment, many young adults may also need to become quickly aware of the challenges of personal financial planning – a subject that recent studies suggest may be unfamiliar to more North American students than previously thought.
The pressures of student debt and challenging job markets have put a generation of young, well-educated North Americans in financial situations that their parents may have found unthinkable. According to data from the Canadian Federation of Students, the total amount of student loans owed to the government reached $15 billion in 2010. Moreover, the British Columbia Securities Commision reported in 2011 that, if given $5000 to invest, 55% of high school students surveyed would use the money to pay for future education. The overwhelming majority of students have optimistic expectations for their financial futures (including home ownership and potential for future earnings), but 51% of those surveyed carry some form of debt – these figures certainly highlight an unrealistic dissonance between many youths’ perceptions and their financial realities. Mindful of avoiding the continuation of this calamitous trend, parents, schools and educators are being more aware than ever of the inclusion, effectiveness or even outright absence of financial literacy in their province’s curricula. Despite this renewed interest, BCSC survey results indicate that 66% of students learned what they know about personal finance from their parents or family, while a mere 10% were taught these skills in school. If higher education is, as noted, the most coveted investment goal for young people, why should secondary schools – who work constantly to push the envelope of academic performance in the name of higher education – omit the fundamental skills necessary to help students make that investment in good faith?
In recent days, the state of Oklahoma announced a plan to make radical steps to make financial literacy education a fundamental component of high school learning – Oklahoma schools now boast the most comprehensively codified standards in America for teaching personal finance to students of high school age, whereas almost half of American states have no requirement whatsoever to include financial literacy in curricula. In Canada, British Columbia is the only province to date to include mandatory education of the same principles – other provinces offer courses which are not required in order to graduate.
Merchant Advance Capital’s own David Gens is an outspoken supporter of financial education in schools, given the immense effect that understanding of these concepts can have on future quality of life. His longtime acquaintance Amit Sandhu is one of the founders of Richmond-based nonprofit group YELL (Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad), whose goal is to offer after-school courses, eligible for credits that count toward BC graduation requirements, at schools in West Vancouver and Richmond Districts. YELL is among the growing ranks of North American nonprofit entities hoping to step in and fill the gaps left in financial literacy education across the continent, allowing young people to gain the necessary understanding of the broader context that will inform major decisions in their future personal and educational planning.