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Solving the Problem of Adult Literacy

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an event focused on adult literacy here in the United States and around the world. The XPRIZE for Adult Literacy, an award program sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, is a competition designed to bring the brightest and most creative minds in education and technology together to transform the lives of low-literate adults. “What we need,” said former First Lady Barbara Bush, “is a recipe for big ideas, bold solutions and team building.”  I was thrilled to be a part of this event, and feel confident that the passionate and dedicated educators that this organization brings together are poised to have a huge impact on this significant societal problem.

Literacy is the biggest equalizer we know. —Barbara Bush

In the United States, more than 26 million adults have low literacy skills, and less than 2% of those adults have access to literacy programs. For the adult participants in programs funded by the Barbara Bush Foundation, there are often major hurdles to overcome—these individuals have an average annual income of $10,000-12,000, and typically read at less than a fifth-grade level. The issue of adult literacy is closely tied to English proficiency, not only for people living in English-speaking countries like the United States, but also for the two billion people worldwide who need to learn English for economic advancement. In New York alone, 23% of New Yorkers have limited English proficiency and about 1.6 million people don’t speak English at all.

Low literacy levels—and the need for language acquisition in general—is such a massive problem that needs tackling. English in particular is the global language of commerce, the language of the Internet and often a key driver of socio-economic advancement. When I started Voxy five years ago, I set out to create a product that would help billions of people around the world learn English more effectively and therefore give them better opportunities in tomorrow’s global job market. Today, Voxy uses cutting-edge technology and empirically-tested academic research to improve the way people learn English: We’ve lowered the cost of getting authentic, up-to-date English content, provided instruction to remote areas of the world and capitalized on the power of mobile learning to reach people who didn’t previously have access to high-quality online learning.

I’m extremely proud of what Voxy has accomplished so far, and also excited for a future where Voxy’s powerful platform can be used to support those who need to become literate in their first or second language.

To hear from the other very talented presenters on how they’re working to increase adult literacy, check out the video by clicking here.

Interested in competing to win the $7-million prize? Register your team at adultliteracy.xprize.org.