Canadians vying for coveted $10M Global Learning XPrize
A team of Canadians is developing a new tool they hope could revolutionize education in the developing world – and win them a $10 million prize.
The team is in the running for the Global Learning XPrize, a competition funded entirely by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, in which teams develop technologies to improve education. The competition began three years ago with 198 teams, and the Canadian team was recently named one of 11 semi-finalists.
The technology the 29-person team has created is called Learn Leap Fly. It’s a tablet and mobile device-based educational software that aims to teach the basics of reading and math to children in areas with little or no access to formal education.
Ottawa mathematician Kjell Wooding, who co-founded Learn Leap Fly with Amy Wooding, says there are currently 250 million children in the world who don’t know how to read or write, and most of them don’t have access to schools or teachers.
“So the challenge was: is there anything we could do to help these children in the absence of school and the absence of teachers? Can we perhaps use tablet-based technologies to help them?” he told CTV’s Your Morning.
The software they created acts like a “virtual teacher” for learning the basics, using interactive characters and activities to keep children engaged. For example, the software reads stories to children and then guides them through the process of learning to read the stories themselves.
It’s technology that's intended to be used in a social context, among several children at once, to eventually teach the children to teach each other, says Wooding.
“Once a child learns something for the first time, one of the first things you see them do is turn around and show everyone around them that thing that they’ve learned. And that‘s a very powerful way to encourage them to achieve learning outcomes,” he explained.
Amy Wooding says that none of the Learn Leap Fly team -- made up of mathematicians, engineers, data scientists, educators, and technologists -- had preconceived ideas of how to approach the challenge.
“We came in with no biases, no ideas of what might work and we just set out to learn as much as we could about the (education) space and to test every idea,” she said.
They’ve now been able to test their software in schools and orphanages in Kenya as well as in kindergarten classrooms in Canada to see how it works it in a variety of cultures and languages.
While the software could be used in underdeveloped countries, it could also be used in kindergarten classrooms in Canada to help out in settings where children are at different levels. That could include schools in which many students are new to Canada, or new to English or to French. It could also be used in Indigenous and remote communities facing the challenges of poor access to schools.
The Global Learning Xprize has been underway since 2014 and the final winner is expected to be announced in early 2019.
One team will win the $10 million top prize while five other runners-up will take home $1-million prizes. Kjell Wooding says if his team wins, they have no plans to celebrate with lavish spending.
“If we win this prize, we’re going to put it all back into the project and make it as big as we can possibly make it,” he said.