A UK nonprofit has won an Elon Musk-sponsored prize for inventing a way for children to learn to read without teachers.
London-based onebillion educational nonprofit was announced as a co-winner of the XPRIZE For Global Learning with Berkeley-based Kitkit School for programs created to help illiterate children how to teach themselves to read.
Each receives $5m (£3.9m) plus another $1m (£780,000) for reaching the final.
Elon Musk announced the winners at Wednesday’s event honouring all five of the finalists.
Nearly 200 teams from 40 countries entered the competition, jumping at the chance to become the latest winner of an XPRIZE, a coveted international award funded by entrepreneurs, billionaires and philanthropists who have banded together with the stated goal of making the world a better place through technology.
It’s a four-year competition that includes 18 months for solution development and a 15-month field-testing period.
The competition challenged teams from around the world to develop an open-source, scalable software solution to enable children in developing countries without access to schools to teach themselves reading, writing and arithmetic.
They had to develop programs filled with games that could grab children’s attention and then, like teachers do, use drawings, letters, numbers and sounds to help them to teach themselves to read, write and do arithmetic.
The games would show children letters and pictures, allow them to trace letters themselves as they learned to write, and even read books to them.
Each of the five teams’ solutions was then deployed across more than 170 remote villages in Tanzania, reaching a total of 3,000 children, in a field test that lasted 15 months.
When testing began, XPRIZE officials said only 2% of the children could read as much as a sentence in their native Swahili. Three-quarters had never attended school and many had to be shown how to swipe their finger across a tablet’s screen just to power it up.
But 15 months later, 30% of the children had acquired basic reading skills.
Representatives of both winning teams said the hardest part was developing software at their home bases, putting it on tablets and hoping the children would take to it and figure out how to use it.
The winners will now get to work putting their software into the hands of as many people as possible.
Onebillion wants to quickly begin distributing its app in multiple languages to reach as large a global audience as possible.
It says there are now over 100,000 children around the world that are using the organisation’s onecourse software, and onebillion wants to see that number grow.
Onebillion has a rather grand ambition, team leader Jamie Stuart at onebillion said in the organisation’s promotional video. We want to see a billion children reading with confidence and basically numerate as well to serve as a foundation for their education. And we believe XPRIZE is going to be a catalyst for this scalable quality education.
An estimated 250 million children worldwide cannot read, write or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills, according to the XPRIZE Foundation.
This will be transformational for them, their communities and their countries, said onebillion’s Judith Hermetter.
(c) Sky News 2019: UK app that replaces teachers wins Elon Musk’s $10m