Skip to content

Teaching financial literacy to kids overdue, says expert who helped shape new curriculum

Financial literacy is a life skill, says advocate who pushed for it to be a requirement to graduate
Waterdown-based financial expert Saijal Patel met with then-education minister Stephen Lecce (left) and Premier Doug Ford last November.

WATERDOWN — When the provincial government announced an overhaul to the Ontario Secondary School Diploma requirements on May 30, no one was more excited than Saijal Patel.

In particular, the financial analyst now based out of Waterdown is happy to see the changes include a financial literacy component added to the Grade 10 curriculum; starting in 2025 students must achieve 70 per cent or higher to qualify for graduation.

The idea, after all, was her baby, and the issue is one Patel has been passionate about throughout her career.

“It's so overdue,” she said of the changes, which focus on ensuring students have the skills and knowledge to create and manage a household budget, save for a home, learn to invest wisely, and protect themselves from financial fraud. 

“It's so important for Canadians to understand and have those skills, not just…for themselves, so they can manage their money better, to achieve the things that matter the most to them, but it's also just understanding how money works so we can advocate for policies that make sense,” she said.

Those changes might never have happened but for a chance meeting with Premier Doug Ford in, of all places, a furniture store last fall. According to Patel, she was shopping for a sofa in Stoney Creek with her mother, who went off on her own for a few minutes. 

“And she comes back 15 minutes later with a big smile on her face, and she's like, 'Guess who I bumped into?'” said Patel. “She said, ‘Premier Ford’s here.' Like she literally ran into him.”

Introductions were made, and they snapped a photo or two. Patel outlined her background in finance; Ford gave Patel his number and said to call if she ever needed anything.

“And I said, actually, there's nothing I need from you except one thing,” she said. “I said, 'You need to make financial literacy mandatory in high schools.'”

Things took off quickly from there. Within 24 hours a meeting was set up with Stephen Lecce (last week named as Minister of Energy and replaced by new Education Minister Todd Smith). On Nov. 10, Patel made a presentation to Lecce and the Premier at Ford’s home.

“I met with them, and they asked a lot of questions. I made my case on why this is important,” said Patel. 

After a couple of additional meetings with different key people – the last being about mid-March –  things went quiet.

“I had no idea what was going to happen,” said Patel. “And then two weeks ago, I got a phone call saying, ‘Are you sitting down?’”

The plan was going ahead, and the Minister’s office was looking for a quote from Patel for the press release. She provided her official statement: 

Saijal Patel attends the May 30 Ontario Ministry of Education announcement for the changes to the high school curriculum. Supplied photo

"By equipping our youth with financial knowledge, we are empowering them to navigate life's financial landscape with confidence and competence. This investment in their education not only secures their future but also lays the groundwork for a stronger, more prosperous Ontario. As a financial wellness educator, I echo the sentiments of Minister Lecce and commend the Ford government for championing this essential step towards equipping our students with the tools for lifelong success."

Patel worked in the financial industry for a couple of decades, then as a business journalist as a correspondent for CNBC in Singapore and as an anchor at Business News Network in Toronto. These days, she’s devoting her talents to educating women on financial wellness through her company, Saij Wealth Consulting.

Education and creating awareness has in fact become a bit of a mission for Patel. She notes that being financially well is as important as being physically and mentally healthy – but is rarely discussed openly at home or in school.

“When I teach women and I do workshops, the number one comment that I get, by far, is, ‘Why isn't this stuff taught in schools?’ Or, ‘I wish I had known this when I was younger, I’d be in a completely different financial situation, had I known this.’

“And then it becomes, ‘I'm so glad that I know this, because now I can have this conversation and teach my kids'. So I knew I was on to something.”

As the new OSSD requirements move forward, Patel expects the ministry will gather input from personal finance experts to shape the curriculum. She’d love to be involved, possibly as a resource for training teachers.

“For me, I think the key is going to be the execution and how they're going to support teachers as well, because a lot of teachers may not have these skills,” she said.  

And, to inspire students, teachers need to be fired up about the subject. 

“You want to make sure that the teachers are inspired and understand this, and that they can, in turn, inspire children,” she said. “Because the last thing I would want is the students to feel, ‘Oh, this is boring,’ or ‘This is math.’ 

“This is a life essential skill, and we really have to make sure that they understand that.”


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Brenda Jefferies

About the Author: Brenda Jefferies

Brenda Jefferies is Editor of FlamboroughToday. Brenda’s work has been recognized at the provincial, national and international levels, with awards for local sports, headline and editorial writing
Read more