Financial Education Battle Reaches a Boil in Quebec
By Dan Kadlec
February 14, 2017
The fight over financial education in high school has reached a boil in Quebec, Canada, where a strong-minded education official is trying to ram through a financial literacy curriculum that teachers find appalling.
This is not a unique struggle. Nations, provinces, states and communities around the world are grappling with how best to present personal finance lessons to students. There are no easy answers. But nowhere has the debate raged louder than in Quebec.
As previously reported on Right About Money, Education Minister Sebastien Proulx has ordered a mandatory personal finance class for high school students beginning in September. Teachers unions are demanding he suspend the rollout.
The course would teach students about consumer rights and regulations, the concept of supply and demand, taxes, interest rates and credit cards. It would also discuss things like how to sign leases for apartments and cellphone contracts.
It’s not entirely clear what the real issues are. Proulx seems to see financial literacy as too important of an issue to delay any longer. Teachers say he is rushing to install the class and they cannot support it without more careful consideration. That’s the nice version, anyway. Underlying the battle are some highly contentious and ingrained views.
Consider this comment to Canadian press from Sylvain Mallette, head of a teachers union: “This class was concocted by the banks. How do we know the material that is being imposed won’t include marketing for the banks’ financial products?”
Sebastien Joly, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, chimes in: “Certainly the introduction of a class like this is not in line with our philosophy of education. It’s coming from the financial groups, bankers…We have more of a liberal view. You’re supposed to acquire knowledge that would open your horizons and help you from a critical standpoint.”
Doing nothing to tame the rhetoric, Proulx’s side last year issued a blistering report on root causes of individual financial struggles and essentially made the case for quick, substantial action. The report came from an advisory committee to the Quebec securities regulator, Autorite des marches financiers, which consists of top government and bank officials. It notes that Quebec household debt is a staggering 150% of income.
The report blames “refractory” and “Judeo-Christian values” about money that have “affected many generations,” especially among the dominant French speaking population and “still distinguishes us from Canadians in other provinces.” The report suggests Quebec’s outdated culture around money is holding students back and that a priority should be to “encourage Quebecers to talk more about money, finances and the economy.”
This can’t help but invite pushback. Teachers unions concede the money talk does not occur in most Quebec homes but say old-fashioned views about money are changing. As that happens, they want to encourage critical thinking about capitalism and the global financial industry—not be duped into becoming financial shills.
So the battle lines have been drawn. Education officials want to move fast and they are open to ideas from the financial community. Teachers want to be certain that the financial education class they end up with goes beyond products and advise. Both sides have a case. Let’s hope they cool down the rhetoric and find a middle ground.