What Teacher Pushback Says About Financial Education in Canada

By Dan Kadlec

January 18, 2017

Quebec Education Minister Sebastien Proulx

A tug of war over school-based financial education in Quebec, Canada highlights the problems many governments around the world encounter as they push to raise ordinary peoples’ personal financial literacy.

This week, teachers unions representing 100,000 public school teachers in Quebec demanded a moratorium on a mandatory personal finance course that Education Minister Sébastien Proulx plans to install by September 2017. The unions denounced the “unilateral” and “hurried” change as “illegal” and “disrespectable” to both teachers and students.

It is not clear how this will end. What is clear is that the new program faces stiff challenges—and assuming it is an improvement over earlier programs (why else change it), another class of Quebec kids stands to be shortchanged.

Quebec isn’t wrestling with this this issue in a vacuum. In the U.S., the states of Ohio and New Mexico have experienced recent setbacks–to the dismay of teachers, not because of them. So this isn’t to take sides. Teachers are on the front lines in the financial literacy battle. They want and deserve a voice in selecting programs, and they need time to prepare new courses. In Quebec, Proulx seems to have given them very little of either.

Curriculum changes without teacher input are rarely as successful as they could be, says Sébastien Joly, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. He adds that six months of prep time is unacceptably short in the education world.

But there may be another side to the story. Proulx likely saw resistance coming. Some teachers had complained that he wanted to make students into “good consumers” rather than “enlightened citizens.” Joly flatly says he suspects Proulx is moving fast for political reasons—“to show he is a man of action.” It’s possible Proulx just decided to press on knowing he’d face hurdles whenever he moved on the issue.

The new personal finance class would address critical modern-day issues like building your credit score, sticking to a budget and agreeing to a cell phone contract. It would replace a section of a class on global issues, which had replaced a mandatory economics class in 2009.

Most teachers are on board with the financial education mission, Joly says. They mostly just want another year to prepare—September 2018 suits them fine. If the issue is so darn pressing, Joly adds, maybe the government should first blast ahead with public service campaigns and other financial literacy messages. It isn’t. This should not all be left to teachers, he says.

As in the U.S., education in Canada is managed at the local level. There can be no federal mandate for financial education, and the provinces all have their own way of doing things.

In Nova Scotia, for example, personal finance before high school is embedded in math, social studies and health education classes. More opportunities are presented in high school. In Saskatchewan, they do almost nothing. Quebec is trying to find its place, which may require some disruption—and has led to this tug of war with students in the middle.

Let’s hope the education minister and the teachers get together on the issues soon, for the good of the students. Helping students become smart consumers and enlightened citizens are not mutually exclusive exercises.

For more on the battle in schools:

Budget in Shambles, New Mexico Opts Out of Financial Education

Will Ohio Backtrack on Financial Literacy Effort?

Posted in International, Youth on January, 2017