Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools has about 600 teachers and shares access to 150 substitute teachers with other school jurisdictions. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

EDITORIAL: Financial literacy for young Albertans

Financial literacy is essential to successfully manage life’s big events.

Many of us have had some key life experiences when financial literacy would have come in handy: maybe it’s budgeting for university, signing for a mortgage, getting a loan, managing a small business, or buying a car, and of course, doing your taxes.

We’ve all heard the phrase: “Why didn’t they teach us this at school?”

Why didn’t we learn how to save, the basics of investing, how to use an RRSP or a Tax-Free Savings Account, and how to manage debt.

For generations, we’ve all asked the same question. While we learn other math skills that prepare us for a range of jobs, like carpenters, accountants, and yes, even rocket scientists, we have under-prepared our students for basic life skills.

As parents, many of us have managed to fumble through these life experiences, while learning along the way. Many of us have sought to teach our children valuable life lessons about how to manage their allowance and birthday money, and how to save up for the things they’d like to buy.

But parents are just one part of the equation. It’s past time for schools to increase the financial skills they provide that our children need for their future success.

To address this we are implementing new financial literacy knowledge and skills in the kindergarten to grade 6 curriculum, so all students in these grades will be learning important money management skills beginning in September 2022. Financial literacy will also be woven throughout the future grades 7-12 curriculum.

That is also why, last year, our government invested $1 million in a pilot program focused on financial literacy training for students in grades 3 through 12 – reaching over 250,000 kids. Students learned important skills including how to manage money, budget and understand credit and student loans. Both teachers and students gave the pilot program high marks. In response to one of the programs, 80 per cent of participating teachers have felt the platform was exceptionally user friendly and students felt 3 times more comfortable with money after taking the course.

The program was so successful that we have decided to extend it as part of our Alberta at Work initiative. This new commitment of $5 million will reach over 360,000 students in grades 3 to 12. Students will be taught how to understand their financial situation, how to create a budget, how credit works and how to maintain good credit, and, crucially, how to put money away and build their savings.

While the program is directed to individual students, it will, over time, have a spill-over effect on the Alberta economy as a whole. It will create a more knowledgeable and efficient workforce, jobs in the financial sector and entrepreneurs that are the lifeblood of our province.

Financial literacy is not just one course, but comes with life experience. It is our hope that this expanded investment to ensure this key life skill is included in Alberta’s curriculum is the first step to lifelong financial health.

This investment, we believe, will give young Albertans the confidence to make smart financial decisions as they go through life, and that we can say goodbye to the phrase, “Why didn’t they teach us this at school?”

Adriana LaGrange is the Minister of Education for Alberta and Travis Toews is the Alberta Minister of Finance.