November 5, 2018

Will a new tech competition solve the adult literacy crisis in the US?


It’s easy enough for those in the publishing industry to focus our efforts on the reading public, furiously vying for their attention. 

But there is a troublingly large population of adults who lack complete literacy, a symptom that could be easily resolved thanks to a new “app-building” competition, according to Zachary Headings at Street Sense Media, the DC-based street newspaper aimed at bringing awareness to the homeless crisis in the area.

Adult literacy in this country has been consistent–and high–for quite a bit of time. “Thirty-two million adults in the United States are illiterate or low-literate, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. This statistic has remained about the same over the last 10 years,” says Headings.

But the programs that aim to increase adult literacy are underfunded and understaffed, providing assistance to a little over 6% of those in need. The XPrize Foundation hopes to change that with a new competition called the Adult Literacy XPrize.

Partnered with the Barbara Bush Foundation and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the Adult Literacy XPrize was created to provide much-needed assistance to any adults with access to a smartphone, via new and innovative literacy apps.

“This is the way we’re going to revolutionize the way adults can learn: by going into the mobile app space. That way, people can access these apps at any time, any place, at their own discretion,” said Haneen Khalaf, a senior associate at XPrize. “We’re basically breaking down a bunch of barriers that kind of keep a lot of the low literacy adults in the U.S. from attaining higher education services.”

A two-stage competition, the first stage of the XPrize began in June 2015 with over 40 app developer submissions. Now nearing the end of that stage, five apps are in the final round and working towards building an app that will help in lowering the adult literacy gap. The second stage, or the Communities Competition stage, hopes to connect those app developers with other groups experienced in community outreach. The top three groups–with the best app and best outreach–stand to win a $500,000 prize shared amongst themselves.




Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.