Why we’re challenging the tech world to help us fight low literacy

by Doro Bush Koch, FoxNews

My mom, former First Lady Barbara Bush, has taught me that reading fundamentally changes a person’s life. Not only did she encourage reading among her children and grandchildren, but she has dedicated her life to spreading family literacy as a value in every home.

Many of us take for granted our ability to easily understand an article or a piece of mail we receive, but the inability to read is a debilitating reality for both children and adults.

It’s hard to believe that as we ended 2015, more than 36 million Americans struggled with low literacy. But as we begin 2016, we are hopeful that a bold new solution is on the horizon, thanks to a global competition that will focus some of the world’s biggest thinkers on solving this problem.

More than 110 teams from around the world have registered to compete for the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

This year, these teams will embark on the development of an innovative technological solution that would allow low-literate adults access to an educational mobile application, literally putting the resources they need to improve their reading skills at their fingertips.

The goal is to incentivize teams to devise a large-scale solution that tackles the complex problem of low literacy with the hopes of improving the lives of millions of Americans. The teams are diverse and include gamers, developers, entrepreneurs and academics. Over the course of this multi-phase competition, participating teams will be vying for a prize purse totaling $7M, including a grand prize of $3M that will be awarded to the team whose solution can demonstrate the greatest literacy gains among field test participants over 12 months.

While traditional family literacy programs are at the heart of helping families learn to read, more needs to be done. I have met parents and children who are working hard to improve their literacy skills. In fact, parents enrolled in Barbara Bush Foundation family literacy programs, on average, improve their literacy skills by two grade levels in one year. However, access to these types of programs remains a significant obstacle.

Less than 5 percent of the families are getting the help they need. Many of these families, who are in desperate need of these literacy programs, are placed on waiting lists. That’s why the vision for the XPRIZE is so inspiring—it gives us hope that millions of low-literate Americans will receive a second chance to realize their dreams.

My mom believes that America remains the great nation of opportunity where individuals can achieve their goals, and that the ability to read is the key to building better lives. It takes great minds, a vision and determination to tackle this important cause.

While mom turned 90 years old last June, she is a forward thinker, and recognizes that we need bold, 21st century solutions to address low literacy. We begin 2016 with a resolution to use all of the resources at our disposal to strengthen American families by investing in literacy.

Doro Bush Koch, daughter of former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, is honorary co-chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. 

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