Foundation Promotes Education and Financial Literacy

By Bob Sharkey, FCIA

The National Task Force on Financial Literacy, chaired by Don Stewart, documented the need for action to improve the financial literacy of Canadians. The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development assessment indicates that Canada has dropped to 13th ranking in math education (from sixth in 2006 and 10th in 2009). The broader implications are alarming, as are those for the future of the actuarial profession in Canada.

By supporting the Actuarial Foundation of Canada (AFC), actuaries can help make a difference to Canadian math education and financial literacy. For several years, the AFC has funded a broad range of programs across Canada that target youth math education for all ages, from pre-school to university.

In 2013 it funded, for the first time, a math teacher training program in British Columbia for aboriginal and at-risk youth through the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). In its report to the AFC on aboriginal outreach programs, PIMS noted that aboriginal youth are Canada’s fastest-growing demographic, accounting for 20 percent of labour force growth between now and 2026. Yet the First Nations high school completion rate is 36 percent, compared to the Canadian average of 72 percent. Of aboriginal people aged 15 and, over almost 44 percent did not hold any certificate, diploma, or degree in 2006, compared to 23 percent for the Canadian population. With CIA funding support, the AFC was able to help aboriginal and at-risk youth discover the joys of mathematics.

In 2013, the foundation supported the Dollars With Sense program for Grade 8 students in Nova Scotia, in partnership with Junior Achievement Nova Scotia. This was a new initiative on their part and AFC funding was critical to its launch.

Other AFC-funded youth math education programs include: a math numeracy program, LittleCounters, which targets pre-schoolers; the Science and Mathematics in Action (SMAC) Project, which promotes math and science for youth and the general population; the Canadian Mathematical Society, which provides math enrichment camps for grades 8–11; and Youth Science Canada, which provides six awards for projects that demonstrate effective use of mathematics, databases, and statistical analysis.

In conjunction with the Society of Actuaries Committee on Knowledge Extension Research, the AFC currently supports a research project, "The Impact of the Financial Crisis on the Financial Welfare of Canadian Seniors".

For more information on these and other youth math education programs and public policy research projects funded by the AFC, visit its website at

The AFC also helps support high school and university students pursue math and actuarial education through the Hugh White scholarship program, which it administers, and the University of Manitoba James Anderson Bursary fund, which it helped establish.

The AFC’s most recent goal is to actively pursue a financial literacy strategy designed to meld the expertise of actuaries with the resources and scope of organizations promoting financial literacy in Canada. It successfully facilitated collaboration between a volunteer actuary, Marc-André Vinson, and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada for an online tool consisting of integrated retirement, debt, and savings calculators.

There is a second prong in the foundation’s approach to the financial literacy arena. Over several years, Ellen Whelan and her husband have developed online modules referred to as Foundations of Finance that cover a wide range of financial literacy topics, aimed at high school students. Before they put the final touches on these modules, a partner is being sought who has the distribution capacity to make the modules available to a wide range of users. Currently, the AFC is developing a partnership with the Investor Education Fund.

In conclusion, the AFC is working hard on initiatives that hold considerable promise, especially in the field of youth math education and financial literacy, where there is a strong link to the actuarial profession. Together with the its ongoing programs, the foundation meets its philanthropic goals and promotes the positive image of the actuarial profession in youth education, financial literacy, and research.

Bob Sharkey, FCIA, is Chair of the Actuarial Foundation of Canada.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires