(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Here’s a stat that bears repeating till it sinks in: a whopping 36 million U.S. adults lack basic English literacy, per a 2015 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education.
That assessment of the situation, workforce implications aside, means a group of Americans equal to Canada’s entire population have difficulty accessing basic services like opening a bank account or navigating the country’s often complex health system.
Solving that problem through tech is the goal of the 108 teams around the world participating on XPRIZE Adult Literacy competition, and Philly’s playing a major part in it. Starting July 25, Philadelphians reading at a 3rd-grade level or below can get to try out literacy-focused mobile apps made by 10 or so of the contest semifinalists. The goal is to connect 3,500 people with one of the mobile apps.
XPRIZE reached out with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Adult Education (OAE) to connect to the target audience. The test is also happening in Los Angeles and Dallas, though Philly is in the only city where local government is the liaison.
“Our task was to publicly engage, screen and enroll 3,500 adults who will use one of the randomly assigned apps for 12 months,” said Anne Gemmell, director of family learning at OAE. “They’ll agree to have data tracked in exchange for a gift card.”
Following the field test, up to five finalists will be announced in May 2018. Winners of the $7 million pool of prizes — sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation and Dollar General Foundation — will be announced early 2019.
Though no Philly teams made their way to the semi-finalists, a home-grown team did recently score a $2.5 million prize from another XPRIZE competition: the creators of a Star Trek-inspired medical device.
“A lot of people in the world look down to people in adult education,” said Diane Inverso, director of the OAE. “They’re thought of as slackers, and because of that stigma and the lack of funding it’s not a field that sees a lot of innovation.” She said the potential upside for the city lies in further connections with the organization and usage of a tech-enabled literacy tool by locals.
Those interested in participating in the test can preregister by calling 215-686-5250. The participants first language must be either English or Spanish. Also, the effort is sourcing volunteers, who can sign up here.