Canada is falling behind in educating its high school students in financial literacy, according to a non-profit agency that specializes in investor education.

Students graduate from high school and face critical life decisions about taking on debt for higher education or choosing a career path without understanding basic financial concepts, says Tom Hamza, president of the Investor Education Fund, a group that educates students, parents and teachers.

“We’re well behind what we need to be, particularly considering the new kind of pressures people have when they get to the end of high school,” Hamza said in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

An IEF survey of Ontario parents found only 40 per cent believed their teen children were prepared to handle finances at the end of high school.

The vast majority of parents (84 per cent) thought financial literacy was important and most believed it should be taught in school.

“Half of them are teaching something at home, at same time they want schools to supplement that,” Hamza said.

About 70 per cent of the students surveyed also said they want to learn more about finances.

“If you look at high school students, there’s some basic numeracy that’s critical and it’s not just the numeracy of being able to do certain math equations. It’s an actual applied numeracy,” Hamza said.

“It’s not about creating a generation of investment bankers. It’s about having people able to understand what the major hurdles are in their financial lives – the basics of credit and debt and telephone bills and that sort of thing all the way to long-term expectations,” he said.

Hamza said his goal is to create a generation that can manage their debt and look at financial products and assess them realistically.

He is working with ministries of education across Canada to achieve this goal. Ontario introduced a financial component to its Grade 4-12 curriculum in 2012, working it into math, social studies and other classroom programs.

IEF offers free personal and professional development workshops for Ontario educators. The IEF was founded and is supported by the Ontario Securities Commission.