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Pilot project teaches Ontario students financial skills needed to succeed

Ontario launches new financial literacy course

TORONTO — Students in more than two dozen Ontario high schools are taking part in a pilot project aimed at teaching them financial skills necessary to succeed in the new global economy.

The Liberal government says the project, which is underway in 28 schools, is part of its promise to improve financial literacy education.

"In the face of changing times our students need wider ranges of skills and knowledge to succeed," Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said Thursday as she made the announcement during a visit to a Catholic school in Toronto.

"They'll also need to learn how to be resilient and adaptable in a world where the only thing that is constant is change."

Students in each pilot are learning one of four different subjects: financial literacy, entrepreneurship skills, digital literacy, and career and life planning. The teachers' feedback will be incorporated into the new curriculum design, to be implemented provincewide in 2018.

Hunter announced last year that an overhaul of the mandatory Grade 10 career studies curriculum would include financial literacy.

"It's been a long time coming," said Prakash Amarasooriya, who launched a petition late last year calling for the change. "A lot of students talk about not learning life skills in school they know they'll need in the real world."

Amarasooriya said he came up with the idea after his parents lost their jobs in the financial crisis and he took on five part-time jobs to help out.

"In going through that situation, I realized the need for financial literacy and my own lack of knowledge in dealing with it," he said.

The 24-year-old graduated high school in 2010, but didn't learn basic financial skills until he took a customer service job with TD Bank six years later, after getting an undergraduate degree.

Young customers tend to show signs of poor financial literacy, which often involve credit cards and their credit score, Amarasooriya said. Either they don't get a credit card and don't build a credit score, or they misuse their cards or end up struggling with debt.

Amarasooriya said he hopes the course also includes a basic understanding of financial products like Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and mortgages, as well as a basic grounding in saving and compound interest.

According to Hunter's office, the lessons taught in the pilot project include helping students build financial plans for potential post-secondary education. The students choose a school and housing plan, and research how much it would cost to attend and how they might afford it.

The entrepreneurship lessons include having the students develop business plans they could implement over the summer, while the digital literacy lessons include having students create online profiles geared at getting a job.

The life skills lessons include researching potential post-secondary education options and planning for the career paths that could come from that choice.

Jessica Smith Cross, The Canadian Press