The first XPRIZE launched humans into space in 2004. Ten years later, the non-profit organization is eyeing another frontier: eradicating illiteracy.
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The Global Learning XPRIZE will reward $15 million to developers who build software that can teach children in developing countries reading, writing and arithmetic. According to XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis, approximately 250 million children globally are illiterate and have little or no access to schools or teachers.
The Global Learning XPRIZE competition will occur over the next few years. Over the next six months, Diamandis expects that hundreds, if not thousands, of teams will register for the competition. Then, the teams will have 18 months to develop their software. At that point,Diamandis said the entrants will be whittled down to five finalist teams, each of which will receive $1 million prizes.
Once the finalists have been chosen, the teams’ software will be deployed on Android tablets to at least 100 villages in sub-Saharan Africa. After an 18-month test period, the winner will be chosen and awarded $10 million in prize money.
“We’re picking kids in villages that have no literate adults no schools and we’re going to be measuring how rapidly and how far we can … engage those students and take them from literacy to basic reading, writing and [arithmetic],” said Diamandis.
The software will need to foster autonomous learning so that children can teach themselves. Diamandis said the winning software will also need to be kid-approved.
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“It’s really about the software that can understand the child’s passions … really engage them if the child’s not engaged and they put [the tablet] down, you lose. It’s got to be fun, engaging and meaningful and also teach the basics -- that’s the fundamental competition,” said Diamandis.
In addition to the $15 million awarded by XPRIZE, the organization is also launching a crowdfunding campaign. Any funds raised will be used to deploy the finalist software in more villages in Africa.
“My goal is that the public goes on this adventure with us … people care about the things they feel ownership in,” said Diamandis.
Diamandis stressed the long-term significance of improving literacy around the world.
“This is the only mechanism to create a more prosperous and peaceful world. By educating people, you have lower birth rates, and a more peaceful and more prosperous world. It’s one of the biggest benefits to humanity,” he added.