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Could 250m children become literate without teachers?

Elon Musk funded Global Learning XPRIZE competition could prove revolutionary for education - semi-finalists announced

Posted by Sophie Beyer | June 23, 2017 | International

Global Learning XPRIZE this week announced the semi-finalists in the tech competition that aims to help children in the developing world become literate without a teacher.  The eleven teams from seven countries move forward in the Global Learning Xprize competition to develop open source and scalable educational software for children in developing countries.  An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills.

XPRIZE is challenging these eleven semi-finalist teams to develop open source and scalable software that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months, without a teacher. 

The eleven semi-finalists will be whittled down to five finalist teams in a few weeks’ time, and those five will each go on to field-test their software on 4000 children in Tanzania with support from UNESCO and the Tanzanian government. 

What most excites XPRIZE about these semi-finalist teams is the possibility that their innovative software solutions can exponentially transform the way learning happens across the world, especially in places where children simply cannot get to school

Children from 150 villages will be given tablets, and after 15 months the team whose solution enables the greatest proficiency gains in reading, writing and arithmetic will receive the Grand Prize of $10 million, to be announced in April 2019. In addition, each of the five finalists will be required to open source both their code and their content which will be free and available for anyone to build on.

ET spoke to Matt Keller senior director of the Global Learning XPRIZE at Edtechx Europe, during London Edtech Week, after he announced the eleven semi-finalists.  He said; "[The XPRIZE is a] competition that is designed to get teams to think deeply about how children learn on their own."

“Throughout my career, I’ve seen the many ways technology has evolved to help children access an education they may otherwise not have.  What most excites XPRIZE about these semi-finalist teams is the possibility that their innovative software solutions can exponentially transform the way learning happens across the world, especially in places where children simply cannot get to school.”

All of the eleven teams have developed different educational approaches and techniques five of these will trial the efficacy of their programme on tablets.  At the end of the field-testing phase, the team whose solution enables the greatest proficiency gains in reading, writing and arithmetic will receive the Grand Prize of $10 million, to be announced in April 2019. In addition, each of the five finalists will be required to open source both their code and their content which will be free and available for anyone to build on.

Five of these eleven semi-finalist teams will be chosen to proceed in Tanzania:

·        AutoCognita  from Hong Kong, China & Bellingham, United States)uses a structured curriculum, active learning pedagogy and user experience-focused design.

·        CCI from United States) is developing structured and sequential instructional programs, in addition to a platform seeking to enable non-coders to develop engaging learning content.

·        Chimple from Bangalore, India 60 explorative games and 70 different stories

·        Education Apps for All from the United States is developing an app to teach the building blocks of reading while encouraging oral language development and reading comprehension.

·        Leap to Know from South Africa is developing an app rich with culturally relevant stories that help to build learning foundations for children at different education levels. 

·        Learn Leap Fly (Ottawa, Canada) is using social software and story-based learning to deliver a culture and language-adaptable learning platform for reading, writing, and arithmetic.

·        LiteracyApp.org from Norway is using exponential technologies like face recognition and machine learning to build an artificial intelligence (AI) tutor able to adapt itself to different children. 

·        onebillion from UK, Malawi and Tanzania is merging numeracy content with new literacy material to offer directed learning and creative activities alongside continuous monitoring to respond to different children’s needs.

·        RoboTutor (Pittsburgh, United States) is leveraging Carnegie Mellon's research in reading and math tutors, speech recognition and synthesis, machine learning, educational data mining, cognitive psychology, and human-computer interaction. 

·        Kitkit School (Berkeley, United States) is developing a learning program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture aimed at helping children independently learn, irrespective of their knowledge, skill, and environment.

·        The School of Games (San Francisco, United States) is creating a series of games to teach reading, writing, numeracy and speaking skills that adapt to different learning styles. 

UNESCO estimates that the world needs 1.6 million more teachers globally, a number set to double by 2030. The Global Learning XPRIZE will help prove that with the right education technology resources and partnerships, children can teach themselves to read, write and do arithmetic. By ensuring each finalists’ solutions are open source, XPRIZE also aims to proliferate solutions worldwide at the intersection of technology and learning.  The $10million prize for the winning team is funded by Elon Musk, inventor, investor and CEO of Tesla.

For more information about the competition structure, important dates, and the competing teams please visit learning.xprize.org.

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