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Xprize Offers $15 Million for Tablet Apps That Help Kids Teach Themselves

The goal is to help the 250 million school-age children in the world who can't read or write.


The non-profit group Xprize is setting up a contest worth $15 million to tempt people to build tablet apps that will help underserved kids teach themselves.

The Global Learning challenge is one of the biggest bounties yet from Xprize (there’s still $30 million on the line from Google to send a robot to the moon), and one that’s backed by individuals rather than a certain company or group.

The goal is to help the 250 million school-age children in the world who can’t read or write. Contestants will build apps that kids can use on their own — because many of these kids don’t have access to the “unscalable” resources of teachers and schools.

The prize all ties into a philosophy known as self-organized learning — where kids learn autonomously by figuring out technology for themselves — that’s popular with the TED crowd. And of course, the other big idea is that contests are a peculiarly effective way of motivating people.

“We’re trying to expedite a future,” said Matt Keller, director of the learning price and former leader of the One Laptop Per Child project. “Even if nobody wins, we could get 200 teams spending $500,000 each to win $15 million.”

Keller said he anticipated that the winning app would use an artificial intelligence approach to figure out what an individual kid knows and does not know.

“With the advent of tablets, we’re at the 1-second mark of understanding what can happen between a child and an intuitive device,” he said. “So can you design software that matches intuitive nature of the hardware?”

As of today, teams have six months to register. After 18 months, the top five teams will receive $1 million, open source their code, and deploy it in tests that will likely be held in East Africa.

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