Two educational companies will split $10 million to promote literacy worldwide.
A California company founded by parents of a special-needs son was awarded $6 million in XPRIZE money. The Berkeley-based Kitkit School was declared co-winner along with a London educational nonprofit company called onebillion. Both created programs that help illiterate children teach themselves to read.
Nearly 200 teams from 40 countries entered the XPRIZE literacy competition. XPRIZE is a coveted international award funded by future-looking entrepreneurs, billionaires, and philanthropists. The benefactors banded together with the goal of making the world a better place through technology.
Elon Musk announced the winners at an event honoring five finalists. Each finalist received $1 million. The co-winners additionally split the $10 million grand prize.
The goal was to develop literacy software and put it on tablets donated by Google. Then, thousands of children in 170 remote villages in Tanzania tested it. The five finalists spent 15 months refining the software.
They had to develop programs with games that could grab children’s attention. The programs used drawings, letters, numbers, and sounds to teach users how to teach themselves to read, write, and do arithmetic.
At the project’s start, XPRIZE officials said only two percent of the children could read even a sentence in their native Swahili language. Three-quarters had never attended school. Many had to be shown how to swipe a finger across a tablet’s screen. But 15 months later, 30% of the children had acquired basic reading skills.
Literacy is a valuable skill in any culture. It’s foundational as a basic building block of all Western education. But its value goes far beyond self-improvement—it’s even eternal. It was during the Protestant Reformation of the church that teaching common people to read took on its value. That was so that every individual might be able to read God’s scriptures for him or herself! Since then, both the faithful and the secular value the power of individual literacy—even to the point of investing millions in projects like this one.
All five XPRIZE finalists developed functional software that will be put on the web for open access. Judges determined that the two winners did the best in producing results.
The XPRIZE Foundation has funded more than a dozen other innovations such as making water for drought-stricken areas, tracking health, and studying ocean contamination.
The winners of the latest prize will now work on getting their software into as many hands as possible.
Kitkit will adapt its software for smartphones, which are widely used in developing countries. Onebillion wants to distribute in multiple languages to reach a large global audience.
More than 250 million children worldwide cannot read or write, according to the XPRIZE Foundation.