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The Almighty Buck Education

Global Learning XPRIZE Senior Director Matt Keller Answers Your Questions 4

A couple of weeks ago you had a chance to ask former Vice President of One Laptop per Child, and current Senior Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE Matt Keller about education and the competition. The XPRIZE challenges teams from around the world to develop open source software that will allow children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic with a Grand Prize of $10 million. Below you will find his answers to your questions.
by itzly

Why can't the kids learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic from regular teachers?

Keller: About 60 million children worldwide – primarily in developing countries – have no access to school of any kind. Another 200 million children attend school for several years and leave without ever having learned to read or write a word. This represents an epic market failure in the realm of education. We believe that while more teachers must be trained, and more schools need to be built, technology offers a way to reach those children who are being failed by the current system.

Has this ever worked before?
by nbauman

Has this ever worked before? Has anyone ever shown that it's possible for children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic? And have they published their results in peer-reviewed journals? I thought that most of the research found that computers weren't too useful in teaching basic reading, writing and arithmetic, even when students had assistance.

Keller: There has been minimal research on the impact of technology on learning, especially within impoverished and illiterate communities. The few studies that have been done tend to be on teacher-led programs. We want to address the millions of children who do not have access to teachers or schools and engage the best minds to find out if software can help solve this crisis in learning. Reports on literacy software, such as the recent report on an ABRA literacy software program in Kenya, show significant learning improvement.Similarly, a recent report by the University of Nottingham demonstrates the incredible progress children can achieve through learning software. These are exciting and encouraging studies, yet they were conducted in the classroom. We are seeking an answer to a question on a much larger scale, and the research has simply not yet been done.

We want to find out how to reach and empower millions of children who do not have access to a classroom.How can children in Ebola-stricken areas avoid an interruption in their schooling? How can children in illiterate communities without teachers learn basic arithmetic? How can girls learn to read when they cannot safely get to a classroom? What we are setting out to prove has not been tested before, especially not at this scale. We hope that the collective brainpower called upon to develop open source learning software for the Global Learning XPRIZE will create a new field of study. The success of this competition will just be the beginning of unlocking how technology can be leveraged to reach all children, no matter their circumstance.

Breaking the Cycle of Hype
by Anonymous Coward

There is a cycle with technology in education. Next technologies or approaches are develop. We are promised they will revolutionize education. The hype builds. Everyone shells out cash. Research kicks in. Research shows only small gains were made in small populations. Look the next great thing is here to save education. This cycle has been going at least since the invention of the radio and likely before. What have you seen as Senior Director that gives you hope that we will eventually break free from this cycle and actually see significant gains in education?

Keller: I agree, the hype can be very different from the actual results in the education and technology space. I attended an international education technology conference this year and saw first hand the level of hype around the promise of technology and education. There are a lot of promises, yet not the same level of longitudinal studies to back it up. What works? What doesn’t? Educators and administrators are constantly being bombarded by marketing and public relations campaigns designed to sell products, and the overwhelming majority of these products/systems/technologies are aimed at students and classrooms in the developed world. But, it’s very difficult to know what measures up against current/accurate research. A good resource to help fact check is the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

In terms of this promise, there has been interesting work done by MIT, One Laptop per Child and Tufts University on basic reading in remote Ethiopia showing that children – on their own and with each other – can teach themselves the basics of reading and writing. Tufts, MIT and Georgia State University are doing similar studies in rural Georgia with children of migrant farmworkers who have no or limited access to schools. The early results are encouraging, and much of the work I just mentioned has been foundational for the development of the Global Learning XPRIZE.

We also believe that open source is a key component in this case. A principal reason why we wanted this competition to be open source, is that we believe the community will help the best ideas bubble up to the surface.

This prize should provide a unique opportunity for rapid prototyping in which multiple teams and external participants can all be involved. This will not only result in an educational solution that teaches kids basic literacy, but also create a set of open source components and developer communities that will go on to benefit other projects after the competition concludes.

Re: Computer Cost and Support?
by Anonymous Coward

I'm assuming these people don't have the money for computers either. Assuming that someone comes up with a great software solution, how are these people going to get computers to use it, a network, or even electricity?

Keller: Excellent point. The hardware is not here yet. For this competition, we are providing the hardware (tablets and solar charging stations). The price of technology has plummeted in recent years, and by the time this competition concludes in 2019 it will be far more affordable, much in the way cell phones are. If we can prove that the software/content enables children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic on their own and with each other, it will expedite the hardware needed to reach the poorest children in the world. In the coming years, advances in technology and the reduction of hardware costs will make tablet-based learning more available, and it’s my great hope that a tablet will be created specifically with this demographic in mind. Incredibly low power requirements, self-charging, self-healing and rugged—all the specifications one would like to see in a tablet designed for children living in remote areas.

Working with governments
by Anonymous Coward

Lots of these developing countries aren't known for being very stable or have issues with educating portions of their population (girls for example). Do you work directly with the governments in these developing areas? Do they seem enthusiastic to your goal?

Keller: Choosing a host country to partner with is an important decision and one that required a great deal of research. I can tell you that country ultimately chosen will be stable, supportive and eager to work with us throughout the implementation/testing phase of the Global Learning XPRIZE. One of our criteria for country selection was that there was equal access to both education and technology for girls and boys. This is a priority for us, and one that is non-negotiable.

We will also be working very closely with the host country’s government on all aspects of the implementation phase, specifically the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology.

Working with governments
by Anonymous Coward

If the goal is to come up with a free software solution for people who can't afford an education why charge $500 to register? Wouldn't this preclude people in these areas from competing? It seems to me that these people might have the best ideas of what might work since they live there.

We absolutely agree that education should be affordable and accessible to all. While the $500 registration fee may be a challenge for some, it demonstrates a serious commitment to the competition. The winning solutions, however, will be free to everyone, everywhere. This is the primary reason we made this an open source competition.

by Anonymous Coward

Who is on the judging panel? Is it just educators or do you have people with other areas of expertise like economists, programmers, or people with specific knowledge of these developing areas?

Keller: The judging panel will include experts from a broad range of industries and disciplines, from teachers and neuroscientists to designers and programmers.

Although, as a reminder, there are other ways to participate in the competition, even without being part of a team. We have a wonderful community that is forming around this prize, a community of developers, designers, scientists and more, who are discussing ideas for solutions, collaborating around common pieces of code and more. Come and join us here.

Re: Why not just wait for a solution to emerge?
by Anonymous Coward

Since this seems to be a program trying to reach the same goal as OLPC, just from a software angle, what experience with OLPC is the most helpful for you? Is there a plan to partner up?

Keller: One Laptop per Child distributed laptops through existing educational infrastructures in various countries. During the last two years of its existence, OLPC, in conjunction with MIT and Tufts, began to test the supposition that children could teach themselves and each other how to read. The initial findings proved interesting and promising enough that this supposition is now being tested on a broader scale. OLPC was a pioneering program that leveraged the unique characteristics of computers to help children learn how to learn, and we believe that this initial step will help the Global Learning XPRIZE take this discovery to new heights.
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Global Learning XPRIZE Senior Director Matt Keller Answers Your Questions

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