Financial literacy to be incorporated into Ontario curriculum

Prakash Amarasooriya launched a petition to get Ontario to incorporate basic financial skills into Grade 10 course.

Amarasooriya: If you can’t manage your money, you can’t have a successful career

Prakash Amarasooriya launched a petition to get Ontario to incorporate basic financial skills into Grade 10 course. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

The room went silent when CIBC's Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal asked what the inflation rate is in Canada.

To be fair, the room was filled with children in Grade 7 and Grade 8, but it probably wouldn't be too far of a stretch to say that most adults would have drawn a blank too.

Twenty-three-year-old Prakesh Amarasooriya wants to change that.

Amarasooriya and his colleagues at the Toronto Youth Council launched an online petition to get Ontario to incorporate financial literacy into the Grade 10 career studies course.

"I think it's something that everyone talks about in their candid conversations," said Amarasooriya. "They don't know how to manage their money, they don't know what a mortgage is or how to file their taxes."

Rather than adding another math course, Amarasooriya believes getting the government to overhaul the career studies course is a perfect fit.

"We know it's very difficult to add a new course to the curriculum, so we wanted to find the path of least resistance," said Amarasooriya.

A 2009 survey of 7,000 students from the Ontario Student Trustees Association found that 74 per cent considered the courses of low importance and a waste of time.

Then another survey from 2011 found that less than half of students would take the course if it were made optional.

"If you can't manage your money, you can't have a successful career," said Amarasooriya. "We think those things are important to become an adult and we think that's what school should prepare you to become."

And it seems as though the province agrees.

Ontario's Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter announced on twitter last week that Ontario is currently reviewing the careers studies course.

"We will be updating the Ontario curriculum careers course to have a dedicated module for financial literacy," said Hunter.

The details of exactly what that means are still being worked out, but Amarasooriya hopes it's more than a chapter or module and more like a full semester.

Making sure that people understand the basics of finance and at least know how to save is something that's important to Amarasooriya.

At 15, he had to learn the hard way when his his parents lost their jobs in the 2008 financial crash.

"I think that was the first wake-up call that money is not guaranteed," Amarasooriya said. "I was in a situation where most people weren't and it taught me to save pretty early on. It was pretty hectic. Five part time jobs. I barely ate. I barely slept."

Amarasooriya credits that lesson for enabling him to pay off his entire tuition before graduating from York University.

The Toronto Youth Council launched the petition less than a month ago and Amarasooriya is pleased with the government's quick response even though it's still unclear how long a revision to the curriculum will take.