Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Status of Consumer Education and Financial Education in Canada (2016)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Status of Consumer Education and Financial Education in Canada (2016)

Article excerpt


Many countries are embracing financial education and financial literacy (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2012, 2013). Using Canada as a case, this article reports on a study that explored the links between financial education for financial literacy and the broader topic of consumer education for consumer literacy. Only two previous studies have explored the status of consumer education in Canada (Canadian Consumer Council [CCC], 1970; McGregor, 2000). No studies have linked financial education and consumer education in Canada, although a plethora of research now exists about financial education and financial literacy.

Canada's recent focus on financial education and financial literacy (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada [FCAC], 2015; Rooney, 2015), begs several questions. Is it necessary to have separate financial education curricula when consumer education is available? Conversely, are the existing provincial and territorial consumer education curricula adequate for the consumer challenges of the 21st century? A larger question is whether being literate in personal finances is enough in today's complex marketplace, or do students need the entire gambit of consumer education topics so they can achieve consumer literacy, even consumer acumen (see McGregor, 2011)? From another perspective, Canada now has a national strategy for financial education (FCAC, 2015), to be discussed. Will this narrowly focused measure impede the possibility of ever having a national strategy for consumer education, as recommended by McGregor (2000), or can the national financial education strategy be used as a stepping stone for a future pan-Canadian consumer education strategy?

To address these questions, the inception of both consumer education and financial education is discussed, and then each is defined within the OECD context. The results of two earlier studies concerned with the status of consumer education in Canada are recounted, followed with an overview of the OECD financial education initiative, and the federal government's efforts to bring this notion to Canada. As consumer and financial education are presented, various related concepts are defined and then compared. The article ends with a report of the results and discussion of the implications of a third study about the status of consumer education in Canada, including how the current state of affairs ties in with the contemporary financial education movement.

Inception of Consumer and Financial Education

The term consumer education has been in use since the early 1900s, an example being two papers presented at the 1909 final founding conference of the home economics discipline in North America (Van Horn, 1941). Thirty years later, the term finally entered the wider educational philosophy and curriculum terminology, despite lacking a common, explicit definition (American Home Economics Association and Home Economics Department of the National Education Association, 1945).

It is no coincidence that consumer education emerged as a necessary school topic after the Great Depression in the 1930s. After a false sense of financial security during the Roaring Twenties, the US stock market crashed in 1929, leading to the failure of nearly half of the banks (11,000). When this happened, nearly two-thirds (60%) of the US population was already living in poverty. The depression of the economy manifested in massive, wide-spread unemployment. Consumers stopped spending, so manufacturers stopped producing, creating more unemployment, and exacerbating existing poverty. This dire situation was compounded with an agricultural depression whereby the America's Plains drought (the Dust Bowl, 1930-36) drove thousands from rural areas to urban areas, already rife with poverty, hunger, and unemployment (Croft Communications, 2016). Motivated by these crises, 25,000 US high schools were providing consumer education in the 1930s (Langrehr & Mason, 1977). …

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