Amrita’s learning app wins $125,000 prize in US-based XPRIZE Adult Literacy Competition

Rita Sutcliffe and Dr Prema Nedungadi of the Amrita CREATE Team

Amrita Learning App was awarded $125,000 after a 12-month study of low-literate adults in the US showed significant gains in reading skills for all learners through the app

Amrita Learning App, a finalist in the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition, emerged as the winner in its first phase amongst 108 other registered teams and was adjudged to be providing the best ways to accelerate adult literacy in the US using mobile solutions. Developed by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India’s top private university, the app won $125,000 from XPRIZE, which provides effective, proven educational apps into the hands of learners around the country for free.

Amrita is one of four teams selected for demonstrating significant improvement in language skills in both Native Speakers (NS) and English as a Second Language (ESL) learners during a 12-month test period. The competition will now move on to the next phase, the Communities Challenge, wherein the final four apps will be scaled up to enroll one million users across the US. The Communities Competition challenges communities and organisations across the country to empower adults with low literacy skills to download and use a free, effective, convenient and private mobile learning tool.

The Amrita Learning App was developed by an 18-member team from the university’s Center for Research in Advanced Technologies for Education (Amrita CREATE), led by Dr. Prema Nedungadi. She said, “We are thrilled to have demonstrated a significant increase in learning levels across all types of learners. We dedicate this app to Chancellor Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, whose vision of education for life skills, compassion-driven research, and global reach inspired and influenced the design of the app. We hope to scale this to millions of learners in the USA through XPRIZE and through the Barbara Bush Foundation, founded by the former first lady, Barbara Bush, who literally defined the family literacy movement.”

The Amrita team created a personalised learning app structured upon engaging, culturally appropriate series of stories linked to life skills. The app consists of true and fictional passages designed specifically for adults, hand-drawn characters, and sections supported by human-voice audio, and substantial Spanish support. Lessons were supported with relevant learning games and music. Amrita Learning App is already available to the public for free on the Google Play Store.

“The goal was not just to teach literacy, but to help engage and uplift learners, who can benefit themselves, their families and their communities. We are very proud of our app and its ability to help people learn to read. So, we would like all major social-service providers and adult educators to promote its widespread distribution to adult learners. Use of the Amrita Learning App will increase the user’s literacy to a point where his or her learning begins to naturally increase exponentially, with increased participation in society. From there, we hope that users would feel confident to engage more fully in civic life and become more economically sufficient,” said Dr. Nedungadi.

Amrita CREATE has developed and deployed large-scale projects across India in education. These include Amrita RITE (Rural India Table enhanced Education) in remote villages; Intelligent Tutoring Systems for School Education; eGovernance Systems for Schools, Big Data Analytics in Education and Health; Health Awareness and Monitoring Systems and Simulations; and Virtual Interactive learning environments for Medical Education. Amrita received the UNESCO – NLM award for Adult Literacy in 2008 and the Digital India award from the Government of India, in 2015.

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