By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In the United States alone, there are 36 million low literate adults. Of that, only 5 percent have access to education which leaves a remaining 34 million left to their own devices. In this case, devices as in their mobile phones, tablets or computers.
Since the conception of the smartphone, app developers have created apps designed to serve an educational purpose. Simply by clicking download in the Google Play or App Store, a person can learn a new language, sharpen their math skills, brush up on their trivia and more. And while the educational apps that exist are great, they just skim the surface.
A few years ago, X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit based in LA, discovered only two apps existed for adults with basic literacy skills. Ideally, the apps would help an adult with basic reading level to acquire and hone their skills.
According to Haneen Khalaf, an X Prize associate, the apps weren’t good. So, in 2015, X Prize along with the Barbara Bush Foundation and Dollar General Literacy Foundation offered a prize for the team who could develop the best app. Together they came up with seven million dollars.
After announcing the amount, 108 teams applied for a chance at the grand prize. They each had to create a user-friendly app that helps adults obtain basic literacy skills. In total, 41 teams submitted an app. X Prize narrowed the selection to eight and then five. Soon they’ll be choosing one to three winners.
Throughout the process, X Prize selected 12,000 learners to pretest in Dallas, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Once tested, learners downloaded one of the apps (Amrika Learning, Auto Cognita, Cell Ed, Learning Upgrade or People for Words) to use concurrently with their class lessons or as an alternative to class. X Prize plans to test them again to see how their results compare. These results will help determine the final app, although the top five win a $10,000 milestone prize.
Although the finals apps are soon to be selected, the competition doesn’t end there. X Prize is launching its Communities Competition and Milwaukee has the opportunity to participate and win some big bucks. The top 50 teams selected receive $10,000.
To join, groups can go to communities.xprize.org to register and create a team name. If they’re selected, they’ll be given a unique URL containing the app. All they have to do from there is send out the URL, have people download the app and use it. In August, the team with the most downloads wins.
So why is X Prize going through all this effort to create a few apps? The simple answer is because they can, but the real answer is because they want too.
Beginning in 1994, Dr. Peter Diamandis, an MIT and Harvard grad, offered a prize for the team who could create a spacecraft. Diamandis believed private space travel was overlooked, and so he offered a prize to incentive space exploration. Soon, the Ansari spacecraft launched and a team walked away with 10 million dollars.
Since then, X Prize has offered prizes in nine domain areas: space, oceans, learning, health, energy, environment, transportation, safety and robotics. Over the years, they’ve given over $140 million away in prize money.
“We identify the world’s greatest challenges,” Khalaf said. And then, they encourage the world’s residents to find a solution.
Often when faced with a problem, it seems easier to leave the solution to the scientists, politicians or geniuses of the world. X Prize believes that it’s the regular people who often create the most innovative solution and it wants to put that solution into place.
When it realized how many people throughout the nation were struggling because of a low literacy rate, it knew a solution had to be implemented.
X Prize is hoping to reach out to one million adults who are struggling with poor literacy skills. But they can’t do it without cities like Milwaukee. This is an opportunity for Milwaukee to take on a challenge and change the scope of the city (and potentially win some money along the way).