Closing the Financial Literacy Gap: A Call for Collaborative Action

I remember clearly my first week attending university. I was nervously navigating unfamiliar hallways, classes, and other new realities when I came upon a series of booths set up in the campus food court. Each was a bank or other financial institution vying for my attention and sharing the opportunity to sign up for my very first credit card. My reaction? No way! My impression at the time was that credit was bad and should be avoided at all costs. Money was not a topic I had the opportunity to learn much about in school and I had little exposure to the benefits of having a credit card and using it responsibly to help build my personal credit.  

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada, a time to bring attention to the importance of developing strong money awareness and positive money attitudes and to help Canadians manage their money and debt wisely, save for the future, and understand their financial rights. This is especially important for young people who are just beginning to develop knowledge and perspectives related to money. It is even more important now, at a time when rapid inflation, rising interest rates, and other economic influences have amplified the financial challenges faced by many, especially those with vulnerabilities.   

But where does responsibility for financial education lie?  

For many, the greatest source of financial information and learning is at home. Parents play a significant role in laying the foundation of financial readiness and resilience for their children. However, according to a 2021 survey conducted by TD, one in three Canadian parents aren’t confident they’re setting a healthy financial example for their children, and only about 10 percent of parents consider their household to be in “excellent financial health”. According to the National Financial Literacy Strategy 2021-2026, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has conducted a survey and found that only 61% of Canadians could correctly answer five of seven financial literacy questions. If we rely solely on the home to provide these valuable lessons, we run the risk of perpetuating the same level of financial literacy that currently exists with little opportunity for improvement.  

The Ontario Ministry of Education has recognized the need for financial education to also take place in schools and has introduced curriculum outcomes linked to financial literacy at several places throughout a student’s K-12 education. There is mandatory learning about financial literacy now embedded in Grades 1 to 8 Mathematics, in the Grade 9 Mathematics course, and in the Grade 10 Career Studies Course. In 2023, the Ontario Ministry of Education also made available three self-guided learning modules for high school students available through the ministry’s website. These are very positive steps toward ensuring young people have every opportunity to improve their financial readiness.  

Organizations like Junior Achievement (JA) South Western Ontario also strive to equip young people with the skills and attitudes needed for lifelong success when it comes to money matters. JA offers learning experiences that can be facilitated by teachers or community volunteers or completed independently by students online. These experiences support and reinforce the curriculum outcomes taught in schools and the lessons learned at home.  

The reality is that we all bear responsibility in the effort to better equip young people with financial confidence and resilience. Families, schools, and communities working together will provide the best possible combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences for young people. Programs that are interactive, interesting, and relatable to students will help them see the importance and enable them to apply the learning to their own lives. As a result, young people will be ready to navigate the financial challenges ahead, assessing their options intelligently and making good decisions with confidence.  

  • Karen Chafe
    Director, Programs & Operations
    JA South Western Ontario 


About the Author 

A proud aluma of the JA Company Program, Karen Chafe has worked with JA for over 11 years and is currently Director, Programs and Operations for JA South Western Ontario. Karen is a former high school mathematics teacher and is passionate about providing youth with impactful learning experiences.   

Photo of Karen Chafe for our The Spark article Closing the Financial Literacy Gap: A Call for Collaborative Action

Karen Chafe 

Thoughts from the Quiet Kid…

If you were to travel back in time to when I was in tenth grade and ask any of my teachers, coaches, or family friends to describe me, you would have gotten one resounding answer from all of them: quiet. I was mousy and painfully shy. I did everything in my power to not be seen, acknowledged, and definitely not heard. Tenth grade was also the year that I first participated in JA Company Program. It was on a complete whim – I had attended JA’s summer camps and was looking for something different to do in my spare time, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I quickly found out that my company members were full of confidence and entrepreneurial spirit, and were well prepared to bring our company to success. We decided to sell infinity scarves and set an initial goal of producing and selling 150 scarves. Following the lead of my President and Vice President of Sales, I made my own sales goal and immediately dreaded the idea of having to actually make any sales. Not only did I have to talk to people, but I had to convince them to buy our scarves. In a panic, I ignored all the sales training the team had given us, and spent all my own money buying the scarves I had in my inventory. I figured I would keep that up for as long as I could, and if I could make my sales goal without having to talk to anyone, I’d be in the clear! Lucky for quiet me, my fellow company members were sales experts and we ended up selling over 240 scarves in the eighteen-week period and won the Sales Company of the Year Award. I decided to take a break the year after, partly because I had emptied my bank account buying scarves, and mostly because I was terrified of stepping outside of my comfort zone. At that moment, I was happy to fade back into the background.  

In twelfth grade, one of my classes participated in an in-class JA program. On the first day, Karen Chafe, the program manager at the time, walked in and came right up to me. She remembered my name, my company, the product we did, and how successful our sales had been. I was shocked. It seemed surreal to me that people had remembered I was even there, let alone remember anything that I had done. The moment sparked something in me – maybe I didn’t have to simply fade into the background anymore. When a few weeks later Karen mentioned that Company Program registration had opened, I signed up during her talk. I was still painfully nervous when the first meeting came around, but far more curious and excited about the possibilities of the year. My mentors pushed me to try something new and put myself out there, and so I (very tentatively) went for a management position and to my surprise, was elected Vice President of Human Resources. As the program went on, I started to realize that I didn’t have to just be a quiet kid.  

Mid-December came around, and our production was in full swing. We were making bath bombs, and knew that Christmas-time was going to have a huge impact on our sales. From the suggestion of our mentors, the team agreed to do the one thing I was most scared of doing – door to door sales. While I was terrified, trudging through the snow and knocking on strangers’ doors, the faith that our mentors and entire team had made me fight against everything I knew to be true about myself, and I convinced myself that I was capable of being a salesperson. We didn’t make any sales that night. But still, I couldn’t believe that the shy kid from two short years ago was able to take that on. By the end of the year, my fear of speaking was overcome by a passion for our company and confidence in my team’s skillset and perseverance. I led team building activities, designed participation incentives, and even volunteered to be a speaker at the sales pitch competition.  

My love for JA has grown in new ways, as I’ve now worked on the programs and fundraising teams, and am now running Company Program myself. This year, I had the chance to speak to 30 classes of high school students from across London to get them excited about joining Company Program. For the first time, I got to be on the other side of the room, watching students’ faces as their interest grew and they asked questions. In early November, I got to see those same faces at the JA Centre, nervous and a little tentative, but with that same spark of curiosity and excitement that I remember so well. Every year, the best part of Company Program is seeing that spark bloom into confidence, and seeing those quiet, tentative students realize what they are capable of. I can’t wait to see what this year holds.  


Zoe Burness 

Program Manager
Company Program and Camps
JA South Western Ontario 

That Back-to-School Feeling

I’ve always liked “back to school”. As a young person, I enjoyed going back to school – fresh notebooks, new subjects, seeing friends I hadn’t seen over the summer. It always felt like a New Year and new beginning. When my kids were young, I had the same feelings of excitement and anticipation over the start of the school year. Now with JA, September brings similar feelings of excitement and anticipation as the JA South Western Ontario team gets ready to inspire and prepare tens of thousands of youth across the region, igniting their feelings of excitement and anticipation about their futures.

This school year, we have big plans to deliver JA programs to 30,000 students between September and end of June. Our financial health, work readiness and entrepreneurship programs are delivered free of charge to educators thanks to the generous support of many corporations and individuals. We’re also very fortunate to engage with many individuals who give their time to facilitate JA programs in classrooms. Without the support of volunteers and donors, we wouldn’t be able to fulfil our mission. THANK YOU ALL!

In addition to being free of charge, JA programs are designed to be inclusive and accessible, regardless of race, gender identification, religion or socio-economic background. We seek diverse backgrounds, perspectives and talents in our staff, volunteers and board members that reflect the communities we serve, so that youth can see themselves represented in our work. We believe in the boundless potential of young people and strive every day to empower them to unlock that potential!

We’d love for you to get involved with our work. To find out more about JA and how you can get involved, please contact me at I know you’ll come away fulfilled by your experience and excited about the future. You may even like going back to school!

Karen Gallant
President and CEO
JA South Western Ontario