Local team plans to compete in international adult literacy competition

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, November 2018)       A representative of an international organization came to Cleveland in September hoping to work with Cleveland organizations with adult literacy programs to show them how their efforts to reach adult learners can be vastly increased. The organization, XPRIZE, which designs and operates world changing incentive competitions, hopes to be able to distribute literacy apps to one million adult learners through a competition to be held next year.

   At the Cleveland meeting, community organizations in attendance listened to XPRIZE Adult Literacy Senior Associate Haneen Khalaf explain the XPRIZE $1 Million Communities Competition. They learned that the competition, sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, hopes to advance the way adults improve their literacy skills through the use of adult literacy apps thereby reaching more adults and allowing learning to happen whenever an adult can find time to work with the app.

   XPRIZE says it selected Cleveland as one of the locations to help with outreach in this national effort “because of the number of organizations that support various literacy efforts across the region.”

   XPRIZE, through the international competition, hopes to be able to reach more adults, who lack basic literacy skills, than can be reached with traditional place-based tutoring. “More than 36 million adults in the U.S. lack basic English literacy, yet only five percent have access to educational services,” says Shlomy Kattan, executive director of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE.

   In order to recruit adult learners to try the apps, XPRIZE is organizing an international competition where teams of community organizations will compete for $1 million dollars in prizes while they design applications for the competition and then begin to carry out their plans to promote the competition and involve adult learners in using the apps.

   The apps, that will be distributed free of charge to adult learners, were developed in 2015 the first phase of Adult Literacy XPRIZE, where 109 teams from 15 countries engaged in a competition to create the apps. Five finalists have been selected and the apps are currently being field tested over a 15-month period on 12,000 adult learners. The field test concluded in October of this year. The winning team, with the app and with the best performance, will receive a $3 million prize. Two additional prizes of $1 million each will be awarded to the two teams with the best performance among two different groups of learners – native English speakers and English language learners.

   The Communities Competition will feature a total of $1 million in prizes. According to the rules for the competition, $500,000 of that amount will be awarded to teams that submit the ‘the most innovative, feasible and scalable plans” in the applications that they submit. $10,000 will be awarded to each of the fifty teams that submit the best proposals. The awards will be given to the fifty winning teams in March of 2019.

   The applications for the competition are due by December 21, 2018. In the Greater Cleveland area, the Literacy Cooperative has formed a team and is recruiting other community organizations involved with adult literacy to join their team. Director of Career Pathways Engagement for the Literacy Cooperative Laureen Atkins says the organization is recruiting foundations, organizations and individuals to work together on the project as one team.

   Currently, she says, a core team is working on an application explaining how the team will make use of the apps to increase access to education for adult learners.

   Once teams are entered in the competition, the teams will be competing for an additional $500,000 in prizes that will be awarded to the teams that recruit the most adult learners to download and use the apps. Elise Corbett, an Associate at Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy, and a spokesperson for XPRIZE says, “XPRIZE’s method of ensuring that the apps are reaching the appropriate population is tracking the amount of time users download and use the app – if a learner uses the app on at least three separate days, then that person is most likely a low literate adult and benefitting from the technology,”

   Teams in this deployment phase of the competition will compete in three tiers for a share of an additional $500,000 in prizes. Teams, according to the rules, must register for one of three tiers in the competition. Teams in the first tier must have a minimum of 5,000 downloads of the app by adult learners. The teams in this tier are competing for a $350,000 prize. Teams in the second tier must have at least 1,500 downloads and are competing for a $100,000 prize. Teams in the third tier have no minimum number of downloads and will compete for a $50,000 prize. 

   The winning team in each category is the team with the largest number of people downloading the app and using it on three separate days. Ceisler says each team will have a code they can give to all partners in the team for the adult learners they recruit to use when they sign on to use the free app.

   The Literacy Cooperative team will be competing in the first tier that requires recruiting of at least 5,000 adult learners, says Atkins. The prize in that category for the winning team is $350,000. Atkins says if the Greater Cleveland team wins the competition, a decision will have to be made on how to best use the prize.

   Atkins says thus far, participants forming the Greater Cleveland team, come from Cuyahoga, Lorain and Summit Counties. She says the majority of the participants are currently from Cuyahoga County. Atkins says in Cuyahoga County alone there are an estimated 435,000 adults with reading or math levels below an eighth-grade level. Those are individuals that adult literacy organizations on the team will be targeting for participation in the international competition organized by XPRIZE.

   The competition will run between April and August of 2019. Organizations or individuals wishing to learn more about the Literacy Cooperative and how to become part of their team in the XPRIZE Competition can call Laureen Atkins at the Literacy Cooperative at 216-776-6185. For more information about XPRIZE and the competition visit https://adultliteracy.xprize.org.

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