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Tech company launches Sh1.4bn app competition

Pupils in a computer class. The Global Learning XPRIZE firm’s competition entails developing a software solution that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. PHOTO | FILE
Pupils in a computer class. The Global Learning XPRIZE firm’s competition entails developing a software solution that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. PHOTO | FILE 

California-based Global Learning XPRIZE has launched a Sh1.4 billion ($15 million) app competition and is calling on local software developers, educators and innovators to participate.

The competition entails developing an open source software solution which will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

Mr Ed McNierney, the Global Learning XPRIZE technical director, unveiled the competition in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Mr McNierney said that the registration process will take six months after which teams will have 18 months to develop their applications.

A panel of expert judges will be set up to select the top five teams which will proceed in the competition, each receiving a Sh93 million ($1 million).

The solutions from the five contestants will be spread in 200 villages across the world for field-testing for 18 months to determine the overall winner who will get the Sh930 million ($10 million) top prize.

The total timeframe of the competition will be five years.

Mr McNierney told the Business Daily in an interview that one of the conditions the teams must meet is that the application must be coded in two languages, English and Kiswahili. The application must also be uploadable in any computing device.

“We are targeting the best application that can be used by students aged seven to nine to do basic arithmetic. This calls for teams to have members who can write good software, understand how children begin learning and reading, and the solution should incorporate videos and games,’’ he said.

The teams can draw members across the globe and can also seek technical or financial support from corporates.

“Technology is not the only solution, but it must be part of the solution. If technology can do what we believe it can with learning, it will allow children in conflict zones and refugee camps to safely begin or continue their education,” Mr McNierney said.

The competition is motivated by the fact that an estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills. Most of these children are in developing countries with no access to quality schools and teachers.

“While programmes exist to build schools and train teachers, traditional models of education are not able to scale fast enough to meet demand. We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers to meet the need,” Mr McNierney said.