$15M Global Learning XPRIZE Names Two Grand Prize Winners

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The founders of KitKit: Sooinn Lee, CEO & Creative Lead, left; and Gunho Lee, Chief Engineer. The two were game-developer parents who were inspired by their son with special needs to build a learning tool.

XPRIZE, the global leader in designing and operating incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, announced two grand prize winners in the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE. The tie between Kitkit School from South Korea and the United States, and onebillion from Kenya and the United Kingdom, was revealed at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, where supporters and benefactors including Elon Musk, celebrated all five finalist teams for their efforts.

Launched in 2014, the Global Learning XPRIZE challenged innovators around the globe to develop scalable solutions that enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months. After being selected as finalists, five teams received $1M each and went on to field test their education technology solution in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children across 170 villages in Tanzania. To help ensure anyone, anywhere can iterate, improve upon, and deploy the learning solutions in their own community, all five finalists’ software are open source. All five learning programs are currently available in both Swahili and English on GitHub, including instructions on how to localize into other languages.

The competition offered a $10 million grand prize to the team whose solution enabled the greatest proficiency gains in reading, writing and arithmetic in the field test. After reviewing the field test data, an independent panel of judges found indiscernible results between the top two performers, and determined two grand prize winners would split the prize purse, receiving $5M each:

  • Kitkit School (Berkeley, United States and Seoul, South Korea) developed a learning program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture aimed at helping children independently learn, irrespective of their knowledge, skill, and environment.
  • onebillion (London, United Kingdom and Nairobi, Kenya) merged numeracy content with new literacy material to offer directed learning and creative activities alongside continuous monitoring to respond to different children’s needs.

Currently, more than 250 million children around the world cannot read or write, and according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, about one in every five children are out school – a figure that has barely changed over the past five years. Compounding on the issue, there is a massive shortage of teachers at the primary and secondary levels, with research showing that the world must recruit 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with primary and secondary education by 2030.

Before the Global Learning XPRIZE field test, 74% of the participating children were reported as never attending school, 80% reported as never being read to at home and over 90% of participating children could not read a single world in Swahili. After 15 months of learning on Pixel C tablets donated by Google and preloaded with one of the five finalists learning software, that number was cut in half. Additionally, in math skills, all five software were equally as effective for girls and boys.

Collectively over the course of the competition, the five finalist teams invested approximately $200M in research, development, and testing for their software, a total that rises to nearly $300M when including all 198 registered teams.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

The grand prize winners and the following finalist teams were chosen from a field of 198 teams from 40 countries:

  • CCI (New York, United States) developed structured and sequential instructional programs, in addition to a platform seeking to enable non-coders to develop engaging learning content in any language or subject area.
  • Chimple (Bangalore, India) created a learning platform aimed at enabling children to learn reading, writing and mathematics on a tablet through more than 60 explorative games and 70 different stories.
  • RoboTutor (Pittsburgh, United States) leveraged Carnegie Mellon’s research in reading and math tutors, speech recognition and synthesis, machine learning, educational data mining, cognitive psychology, and human-computer interaction.

See the source release XPRIZE.org.