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The XPrize Foundation announces $15-million open-source literacy prize

The XPrize Foundation, best known for its spaceflight challenges, has announced an earthly focus: Creating an open-source application that can teach a child to read, write, and perform arithmetic without a teacher.

I still wear my XPrize t-shirt for the first sub-orbital private manned spaceflight from Mojave Space Port. The XPrize Foundation is best known for this and other high-technology challenges such as the prizes to land a private robot on the moon and to create a true Star Trek style Tricorder. Now, the Foundation has turned its eyes closer to home with its new Global Learning XPrize.

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With this, the first open-source software XPrize, the Foundation is challenging teams to create software that will teach a child to read, write, and perform arithmetic without a teacher. The prize? $15-million.

Why are they doing this? Because more than 250 million children around the world don't have basic literacy skills. Without these fundamental skills, potential is locked, the door of opportunity is closed, and entire nations are condemned to poverty.

The goal is not to replace teachers, but to bring an educational solution where few or no schools exist. This will not be an easy goal to achieve. Children using the program must gain basic reading, writing, and mathematical skills in just 18 months without the aid of an instuctor. 

While the Foundation already has $15-million ready for the winner, they want to give more. To do that, the XPrize Foundation is asking, via Indiegogo, for the public to add half-a-million more to the Global Learning XPrize.

These funds will "be used to create a global community of advocates, developers, designers, and more, to support and encourage teams to collaborate around common problems and build compelling, innovative technologies, and to field-test these technologies with more kids in more villages and countries."

In short, they're not just encouraging open-source software, they're trying to build a community to support early education wherever children go uneducated today.

So, while this XPrize may not be as thrilling as rocket-ships — although such an educational progam can be stuff of compelling science fiction as readers of Neal Stephenson's brilliant The Diamond Age know — it may have a far greater effect on the world.

Interested in giving it a try? You can start with the prize's guidelines. The competition is open to competitors globally of any age with a range of skill sets. Both individuals and teams are eligible to register. For full details on how the competition will be run see the Global Learning XPrize Summary.

Good luck to all who compete and may one, or more of you, create truly great software that will change the world.

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