$15 million XPrize to tackle youth illiteracy winds up with two winners
The Global Learning XPrize, a worldwide competition to improve illiteracy in the developing world, has drawn to a close with judges unable to split two of the five finalists. The Kitkit School and onebillion teams will therefore share the US$10 million grand prize, with the learning software developed by both bringing about marked improvements for students learning basic reading, writing and maths skills.
Announced in 2014, the Global Learning XPrize was drawn up with the aim of addressing the monumental problem of child illiteracy in the developing world. Hundreds of millions of children around the world are unable to read, write or perform basic arithmetic – by offering a total of $15 million in prize money, the XPrize foundation hoped to inspire technological solutions that could help chip away at the problem.
The competition required competing teams to develop open source software that children can use autonomously as learning tools. One hundred and ninety-eight teams entered in total, with the judging panel of 11 experts whittling that down to five finalists in September of 2017.
From there, the teams were awarded $5 million to continue development and take their technology into the field. More specifically, they put their solutions to the test with the help of 3,000 children across 170 villages in Swahili. The $10 million grand prize was to be awarded to the team whose software brought about the biggest proficiency gains in reading, writing and arithmetic.
But the judging panel was unable to split the results from the two eventual winners. Team onebillion from the UK and Kenya used adaptive learning modules to cater to different child's needs, while South Korea's and the US' Kitkit School team used a mix of flexible learning architecture and a game-based approach. In the field testing, both teams brought about the same advances in learning, and the judges therefore decided to award each team a $5 million prize.
Already through the field testing, the competition has facilitated some very meaningful improvements for the subjects that took part. Before it commenced, 74 percent of the subjects had never attended school, 80 percent had never been read to at home, and 90 percent could not read a single word of Swahili. After the 15-month period of field testing, that number was cut in half.
"Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands," said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE. "Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide."