On February 27, 2014, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development – a partnership between USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government – announced the ‘Enabling Writers’ prize competition which seeks to spur the development of software solutions that allow authors to write and publish texts in local languages to help early-grade school children in developing countries learn to read. See a full list of the software specifications required to enter the Challenge here. Three innovators will be awarded $12,000 each and go on to be evaluated and tested in the field to compete for the $100,000 grand prize. We spoke to Christie Vilsack, USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education, about this exciting Challenge.
Hello Christie – thanks for speaking with us. Could you start by telling us a bit about All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development and the work you do?
All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) is about encouraging the development of groundbreaking ideas that can speed the pace of progress by leapfrogging conventional practices. We can improve reading skills for children in the developing world by tapping the most innovative ideas and inventions from not only the international development community, but also the science and technology, academic, and business communities in developed and developing countries.
The first round of ACR GCD focused on creating instructional reading materials and developing data applications to promote accountability and transparency. The ACR GCD partners selected 32 project winners from 22 countries.
In this second round, the ACR GCD partners seek to spur the use of technology to close gaps in the composition, design and delivery of instructional reading materials, with a particular focus on: mother tongue instruction and reading materials, family and community engagement, and children with disabilities.
What are the main problems you attempt to solve in this round?
Literacy unlocks human potential and is the cornerstone of development. It leads to better health, better employment opportunities, and safer and more stable democracies — however, around the world, millions of children are unable to read.
Through ‘Enabling Writers’, we hope to reduce one of the key barriers hindering children from reading – having access to supplemental reading materials in the languages they speak and understand. When children are acquiring reading skills, good instruction is critical, but just as critical is the opportunity to practice reading. Practice allows children to apply skills learned in class and to expand their vocabulary and content knowledge by using reading to learn. ‘Enabling Writers’ challenges individuals, companies, and communities to develop software that facilitates the creation and production of materials (non-fiction and fiction texts that assist in language acquisition) in mother-tongue languages for children in the early grades of primary school.
Why did you decide that crowdsourcing was the right approach to achieving these goals?
The ACR GCD partners recognize that this global challenge is larger than the capabilities of one or two agencies and organizations. It requires partnerships with stakeholders from across the globe to assist in building scalable solutions. Without broadening our outreach to include new problem solvers and expanding the discussion, we won’t achieve the impact for which we strive.
What are the key attributes you’d like to see in a winning solution? Can you elaborate on what the software must be able to do?
We know kids learn best in their mother tongue language. We are looking for a software system that allows local writers to develop new and creative reading materials for children in their mother tongue language. We want to ensure that children have the ability to practice reading, and to make reading fun and enjoyable in digital and non-digital formats.
In addition to helping generate texts, we want to ensure that authors find the software easy to learn and use.
What will happen in the second phase of the Challenge?
The three winners of the first phase will be invited to pilot their software in three countries. Local writers will use the software to produce fiction, non-fiction, and decodable readers. Our judging for the second phase will be two-fold: assessing both the reports from the local authors on the ease of use and the feedback from local teams of students and educators on the quality of reading materials generated.
Do you have any final advice for potential solvers who find this Challenge interesting, but will need complementary skills (e.g. software skills) to come up with a solution?
We encourage all solvers to seek out and engage creative stakeholders with complimentary abilities in their design process; recognizing that our end users, authors and students, are our principle audience in this Challenge. As mentioned earlier, collaboration and partnership is critical for success – improving literacy outcomes for children in early grades can only be achieved with all of us working together.
Thank you very much for speaking with us. We truly hope the solutions to this Challenge will advance your goals.
A partnership between USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development solicits out-of-the-box, cost-effective solutions for improving children’s reading skills from the global science, technology, and development communities. For more information, visit www.AllChildrenReading.org.