Short selling. Short squeezes. Margin calls. What is a hedge fund? Is Robin Hood, or rather Robinhood, a person or an app?
We can expect a good deal of political head scratching in Washington on Thursday as players caught up in the GameStop investing mania appear before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. Congress wants to know who wins and who loses when, as it says, “short sellers, social media, and retail investors collide.”
The scheduled cast of characters include trader Keith Gill, aka ‘Roaring Kitty,’ who was instrumental in driving younger buyers to snap up GameStop stock, and the rarely heard from Gabe Plotkin, whose hedge fund had to be propped up to the tune of $2.75 billion (U.S.) after betting that GameStop’s stock would fall only to see it rise and rise and rise.
To outsiders this is a delirium that seized the markets over the future prospects of a bricks and mortar retailer that sells video games and entertainment software across a roughly 5,000 store chain – including 287 in Canada. To insiders it’s a wakeup call from a burgeoning class of retail traders, or, as the Financial Times deems them, “an amorphous, profane group of day traders loosely organized around a forum on the social media site Reddit, called r/WallStreetBets.”
But there is a broader lesson to be learned here: the marketplace is changing. A defined pension plan is a relic of the past. When it comes to long-term financial security, we have increasingly left young people to their own devices. If this is not the moment to address shortcomings in financial literacy, then when?
The Star has called for including financial literacy in the high school curriculum in the past. And, for a brief moment, progress appeared to be in the offing with the announcement that the flaccid half-year course known as career studies, taught in Grade 10, would be the chosen vehicle for this essential life skill.
We now know, thanks to the value-for-money audit on curriculum development and implementation, released by the province’s auditor general in December, that “no consistent systematic processes” were in place “to make sure that the curriculum was being implemented effectively and that students were learning the entire curriculum.”
The report found that the Ministry of Education had not provided training to school boards or school staff for career studies. The revised course was released in July 2019 for use in September 2019. To quote from the report: “As of September 2020 the Ministry had not yet provided any training for the course.”
This is no way to ensure students are getting the financial literacy they so obviously needed.
There’s the issue of piloting curriculum before it is released: in B.C., for comparison, curriculum is released a year before mandatory implementation.
And then there’s the bigger issue of content.
The revised half-year course is structured in three segments: life skills; preparing for the world of work; and planning and financial management. It’s within the last segment where the world of money is the focus: “Among other things, they learn about the different forms of saving and borrowing and the risks and benefits associated with each as they create a budget for their first year after secondary school.”
Budgeting is an excellent exercise … for Grade 6 students. That’s what allowances are for.
The text revision does not indicate what the risks associated with savings might be.
It does seem more reminiscent of an era when elementary-school-aged children opened their first savings account and that pride-of-possession moment when the new pint-sized client was handed his or her own passbook. It certainly seems out of step in a contemporary social media arena swamped with bitcoin developments and the explosive popularity of robo advisors and the prospect of a life spent in the gig economy.
This is not to suggest that high schoolers need to comprehend the constitution and conduct of hedge funds. Just think of the poor parents trying to assist with that homework.
But what the revised course does do is expose an inadequate attempt to patch a long neglected hole.
It’s indisputable that students must learn the fundamentals of financial management, “so they can be informed about and responsible for the implications of their decisions, and better managers of their own lives.”
A segment of a course in a single semester isn’t up to that task.
The irony is that we are in a moment that has all the right elements to encourage high school students to get engaged. Perhaps on Thursday Roaring Kitty will explain to congressional leaders his method for “hunting stocks and pouncing on investment opportunities.” Perhaps the short sellers will cite the classic Bernard Baruch line: “A market without bears would be like a nation without a free press.”
There’s a lot to chew on there, and what better arena in which to have that discussion than high school.