Next Billion Edtech Prize awarded to UK’s Chatterbox

Dubai's GESF conference hosted the new tech prize, recognising edtech start-ups making an impact on education in low-income and emerging economies

Chatterbox, an online language school powered by refugees, has won the inaugural ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize launched by The Varkey Foundation to recognise the most innovative technology destined to have a radical impact on education in low-income and emerging world countries. 

The ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize, which comes five years after the Varkey Foundation founded the US$1m Global Teacher Prize, was awarded for the first time at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) 2018 taking place on the 17–18 March in Dubai. Widely referred to as the “Davos of Education”, the GESF brings together over 2,000 delegates from around the world to solve the big questions in global education.

The prize was the focal point of Tomorrow, a new edtech summit taking place for the first time at the GESF. 

Chatterbox was voted for by delegates at The Global Education & Skills Forum from three start-up finalists which included Dot learn, and TeachMeNow. All three winners will be awarded $25,000 as well as the unique opportunity to pilot their technology in partner schools in Western Cape, South Africa.

Over 40 start-ups were selected to pitch for the ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize, which focuses on low-income and emerging economies. The winners were chosen from six finalists which included Learning Machine, Localized and The Biz Nation.

Led by TechCrunch Editor-at-Large Mike Butcher, the expert panel of judges was made up of venture capitalists, philanthropic investors, experts in edtech and learning sciences, and senior education policy-makers. 

The jury selected the three winners from six finalists who pitched on the main GESF stage on Sunday morning. The audience voted on who should lift the trophy. 

“Refugees with degrees and valuable skills still face shockingly high levels of underemployment. An idea like Chatterbox has never been more urgently needed.”

Chatterbox is an online language school powered by refugees. This web platform harnesses the wasted talent of unemployed professionals who are refugees, offering them work as online and in-person language tutors. Based in the UK, where there is a language skills shortage estimated to cost the economy £48bn every year, Chatterbox counts several UK universities and major non-profits and corporations among its clients. Chatterbox is looking for funding to expand its network to countries with large refugee populations for whom there are few economic opportunities. 

Chatterbox Chief Executive Mursal Hedayat said: “I was three years old when I arrived in the UK as a refugee with my mum Patuni. She was a civil engineer who spoke English and three other languages fluently. After we had to leave Afghanistan because of civil war, I watched her become unemployed in the UK for more than a decade.”

“Refugees with degrees and valuable skills still face shockingly high levels of underemployment. An idea like Chatterbox has never been more urgently needed.”

According to UNESCO, 264 million children do not have access to schooling, while at least 600 million more are “in school but not learning”. These are children who are not achieving even basic skills in maths and reading, which the World Bank calls a “learning crisis”.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation and the Next Billion Prize, said: “We have launched the ‘Next Billion Prize’ to highlight technology’s potential to tackle the problems that have proven too difficult for successive generations of politicians to solve. Our fervent hope is that the prize inspires practical and persistent entrepreneurs the world over to come forward with fresh tech ideas. These ideas must be hardy enough to improve education in regions where young people are denied access to a good-quality teacher and a great learning environment.”