For this week’s HCLDR chat I wanted to explore a topic that I am interested in, but that I have zero expertise in – child education. I would really like to hear the community’s thoughts and ideas around teaching health and healthcare literacy in Kindergarten to Grade 12 students (K-12).

Financial Literacy in K-12

Why the interest? A couple years ago, the education ministry here in Ontario announced plans to introduce financial literacy into elementary and high-school curriculums. The goal was to teach the basics of budgeting, saving, investing, and borrowing.

The changes were a culmination of years of complaints by employers, parents, and post-secondary institutions who were seeing young people go into the workforce with very little understanding of personal finances. I distinctly remember one local news reporter standing on the steps of a college campus asking random students to explain income tax and the different (legal) ways to reduce it. The responses were both comical and worrisome.

I bet if that reporter did the same thing, but asked questions about healthy living and navigating the healthcare system, the result would be exactly the same.

Healthcare Navigation

During HCLDR tweetchats, the topic of health literacy often comes up. It is a forgone conclusion that most of the HCLDR community agrees that we need to raise the level of health literacy where we live. Most of the time, our tweetchat discussions and side conversations focus on the need for teaching people about health-related topics – like how to cook healthy meals, the need for self-examination for early signs of cancer, the harm caused by smoking, substance dependency, disease prevention, etc.

There is, however, another aspect to health literacy that is important, but is overlooked by mainstream media – the knowledge of how to navigate the healthcare system. Let me tell you a story of what I mean.

I was at my local pharmacy recently and while standing in line, I overheard the conversation the pharmacist was having with a young couple that was getting a prescription filled. The pharmacist was explaining to the couple how “they needed to be sure that their son took all the antibiotics and not stop even after he felt better”. The pharmacist also told the couple about the nursing hotline that they could call if their son’s condition didn’t improve over the next 3 days. It was clear the couple had no idea what the hotline was.

When it came time to pay, the couple were confused, but pleasantly surprised, about how they did not have to pay (most medications for anyone under the age of 25 are covered in Ontario), but they needed to bring their son’s Ontario Health Card before the pharmacist could complete the transaction.

The couple thanked the pharmacist and promised to come right back with the card to pick up the medication.

I have no idea if the couple were new immigrants to Canada or whether they grew up here, but their interaction highlighted to me how confusing our healthcare system must be for people who aren’t familiar with it.

I still remember how nervous I was when my mom made me take my own prescription up to the pharmacy counter when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t know what to expect, but the grey-haired pharmacist took the time to explain everything to me as he counted out the pills. He told me how the label had the instructions on how much to take and when, about how I should go to the ER if I had an allergic reaction and how I should not try to “catch up” by taking two pills if I missed one.

Relying on the kindness of strangers to education people on how to navigate our healthcare system is not a great strategy.

Things we could teach

Just off the top of my head, here are some of the topics that I think would be helpful for K-12 students to learn:

How to fill a prescription
How/when to go to the ER vs Urgent Care vs phoning a hotline
What to do if you are admitted to a hospital
Understanding health insurance (US)
Where to find mental health and suicide prevention resources
How to read a food label
How to shop for fruits and vegetables
Caring for an elderly adult

I admit I have a lot of ideas for things to teach, but no idea how to best teach this in the K-12 setting. Do we take students on field trips to the grocery store or the local hospital (I did both in elementary school and I still remember them today)? Is a full program needed with quizzes and tests on the topic? Do we make student write essays on the topic?

Join the next HCLDR tweetchat on Tuesday March 6th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following topics:

T1 What are practical health and healthcare-related topics that should be taught in schools that aren’t today?

T2 What is needed to convince educators that health literacy is as important as financial literacy?

T3 What innovative ideas do you have for teaching/helping students learn about health, healthy habits and healthcare?

T4 How should patients, healthcare organizations and other member of the healthcare ecosystem get involved in K-12 health education?


Loriggio, Paola. “New Ontario Grade 10 career studies curriculum to include financial literacy”, CBC, 2 July 2019,, accessed 3 March 2021

“Ontario unveils new elementary math curriculum with coding, budgeting”, CityNews, 23 June 2020,, accessed 3 March 2021

Beach, Martha. “Who Should Teach Financial Literacy To Kids?”, Teach,, accessed 3 March 2021

Frazier, Liz. “5 Reasons Personal Finance Should Be Taught In School”, Forbes, 29 August 2019,, accessed 3 March 2021

Salber, Patricia. “Health Literacy: The Importance of Teaching Health in High School”, The Doctor Weighs In, 17 September 2017,, accessed 4 March 2021

Devraj, Radhika et al. “Active-learning strategies to develop health literacy knowledge and skills.”, American journal of pharmaceutical education, 11 October 2010,, accessed 4 March 2021

“Examples of Health Literacy in Practice”, Canadian Public Health Association, May 2014,, accessed 4 March 2021

“National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy”, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2010,, accessed 3 March 2021

“Health Literacy”, CDC,, accessed 4 March 2021

“Health Literacy”, National Library of Medicine,, accessed 4 March 2021

Image Credit

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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