Making Personal Finance Education Personal

Editor's Note:  Please enjoy a guest post courtesy of a fellow high school teacher and personal finance education activist Alfred Yang who writes at ProLiteracy.ca.

It’s a privilege to write a guest blog post for Young and Thrifty.  At the same time, it’s a challenge since Kyle and Justin have already provided so much great information.

My two partners and I thought rather than risk echoing Kyle and Justin, we might share our story and why we started working on Proliteracy.ca.

The Beginning: CODE 2015

Like many technology projects, Proliteracy.ca began with a hackathon. In our case it was the Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) – Canada’s largest federally sponsored hackathon. CODE was, aptly, a chance for me to go back to my roots and code after spending the last 10 years in software sales and management positions. It just so happened that the three themes for the hackathon were Youth, Commerce and Quality of Life, and to me the natural intersection of those themes was education financing. So I got to work writing an app that forecasts the cost of post-secondary education by performing predictive analysis with open data. To my surprise, the response from the judges was overwhelmingly positive, and the app became a finalist. That’s when I realized that maybe I had struck a nerve. In the following months as I sought more validation I met Aly Hirji and Scott Moore who share the same passion for financial literacy, and the three of us have been working on Proliteracy.ca since.  

Beautiful African American student or teacher standing in front of the blank class blackboard with a piece of chalk in her hand ready to commence writing

Motivation and Validation

Post-secondary education is expensive, and getting more expensive every year. In fact, the average Canadian post-secondary graduate in 2014 owed $28,000 dollars in student loans (CFS Data). It’s now more important than ever for Canadians to start planning early when it comes to paying for their or their child’s education. But where to start? Even when considering my own personal situation, a number of questions remain:

– If I have a young child today, how much should I be saving towards their post-secondary schooling?

– How much money should I set aside each month so that I am not too late by the time my child is ready for college?

– How does studying in a different school or different city impact my cost?

– Beside savings, what other financing options are available to help reduce student debt?

To help figure out if other Canadians have these same questions we met with over 20 organizations including government organizations, financial institutions, fin-tech companies and non-profit organizations to validate the idea behind Proliteracy.ca.  

More importantly, in October we reached out to high school students directly and ran a pilot program at three schools in the Greater Toronto Area to understand how the younger generation think about planning for post-secondary education. We found that students in particular are generally not being educated on personal finance and that they are genuinely surprised at the cost of a post-secondary education. On average, students gave themselves a 5 out of 10 rating for their personal finance knowledge. We also found that they’re not as knowledgeable as they’d like to be, especially when it comes to areas that affect them. Over 60% of students wanted to learn more about student loans and scholarships, and nearly 50% were interested in learning more about grants and education savings plans like RESPs.

We also found that Proliteracy.ca still has room for improvement. Over the course of the survey we received a number of great suggestions for improving our user experience and we’ve been working hard to give the site a design overhaul. If you’re interested in providing some feedback yourself, we’d love to hear from you.

Our Goal: Personal Finance Education Through Data-Driven Technology

It’s no secret that fintech (financial technology) is evolving rapidly. Every day consumers are finding new ways to borrow, invest, spend and manage money. Companies like Square, Paypal, and Mint are now household names. Yet surprisingly, despite college education becoming increasingly important and student loan debt in Canada rising to all time highs, there are few tools available to help Canadians understand how to plan for their education. Sure, you might be able to find a student loan calculator or a list of RESP providers, but some of the key tools for accurate planning are still missing. While fortunately Canadians are getting a lot of good financial information from resources like Google, they’re not getting access to data that can help them get more mileage out of that information by relating it to their specific circumstances.

That’s the ultimate goal of Proliteracy.ca – to provide all the data Canadians need to make informed choices, and to make personal finance, well, personal. And to show we’re committed to this goal, the app is free and available to anyone who wants to use it across Canada.

4 Comments

  1. Saurav on February 7, 2016 at 11:38 am

    First of all, thanks for analyzing and releasing this app. I have been looking for something like this to get an idea of how much it will cost for higher education in 15+ years.
    Some feedback:
    The website is VERY slow to response to data input.
    There is a bug in the city field; it does not keep my selected city choice when I click next and go to the University field.



  2. Kyle on February 7, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Suarav – I’ll pass that along!



  3. Alfred on February 9, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Hi Saurav, I am the developer of the site. Thank you very much for the feedback. We will look into the issue you mentioned.



  4. SST on February 20, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    Late to the party but I’ll chime in anyway (in my usual agreeable fashion).

    First, thank you for creating a source of financial literacy. There can never be enough; and that it is data driven, opposed to ideology driven, is even better. Good work.

    Second, did any person or institute/organization you had interaction with suggest eliminating government student loan programs as a means of reducing the price of post-secondary education?

    Off to visit Proliteracy.ca!



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