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XPRIZE launch competition to boost 3rd world learning

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The XPRIZE have undoubtedly achieved much in their relatively short organizational lifetime, but their latest open innovation challenge is arguably the toughest of the lot.  Yesterday they launched the Global Learning XPRIZE to try and improve and empower children around the world to learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic (the 3 rs).

The competition is challenging teams from around the world to develop free and open source software that can power the kind of software to make this happen.  The aim is to develop something that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves the 3 rs.

The challenge comes with a $15 million prize fund, which will see five finalists awarded $1 million each, with the winning entrant receiving $10 million in total.  The finalists themselves will be selected by a panel of judges, with each finalist then required to undergo field testing to determine the most effective solution.

The challenge was born out of the dire need to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children around the world.  It’s estimated that 250 million children around the world cannot read, write or show basic maths skills.  What’s more, many of these children are without any kind of learning infrastructure, be that a regular school or a trained teacher.

With UNESCO estimating that the planet will need over 1.5 million more teachers by next year, it’s clear that there needs to be a solution born that can enable these children to learn, even without access to teachers.

No doubt an inspiration for the challenge came from the work of Sugatra Mitra, who famously placed a computer in a ‘hole in the wall’ of a small village in India, and watched as children began using the machine to learn and explore.

His TED talk explaining his experiment has been one of the most viewed of all time and will no doubt be on the playlist of any entrant to the XPRIZE challenge.

The hope is that the open source solutions developed for the prize can, and will, be easily deployed around the world, bringing the gift of learning to a community that had traditionally been deprived of that opportunity.  The aim is that armed with these basic building blocks, these children will then start making their own impacts upon their local communities, creating a ripple of good throughout the world.

It’s a very noble and worthwhile project, and it will be fascinating to see the solutions offered forward.  You can find out more about the project here, or view Mitra’s TED talk below.



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