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HomeLanguage NewsnewsTwo Teams Share $7M Adult Literacy XPRIZE

Two Teams Share $7M Adult Literacy XPRIZE

Learning Upgrade’s App

XPRIZE, in partnership with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, has announced two grand prize winners of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, a multi-year, multi-phase competition focused on transforming the lives of low-literate adults across the nation.

Launched on former first lady Barbara Bush’s 90th birthday in 2015, the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation challenges teams to develop mobile applications for smartphones that increase literacy skills among participating adult learners. With research showing that 77% of Americans now own a smartphone, the competition aims to dramatically change the way the United States meets the needs of the 36 million adults with low literacy skills, by tackling the largest obstacles to achieving basic literacy – access, retention and scale.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked XPRIZE, the leader in designing and operating global competitions to solve humanity’s greatest challenges, to help create a competition to tackle the largest obstacles to adults achieving basic literacy.

“Mom and I shared the belief that literacy is the gateway to live a life of purpose. Just imagine trying to find a job, get a driver’s license, or understand your child’s report card without the ability to read and write,” said Gov. Bush, former Barbara Bush Foundation board member. “We launched this project to leverage the power of competition to infuse innovation and fresh ideas into the adult literacy landscape.”

Grand prize winners, Learning Upgrade and People ForWords, will divide a $3 million purse, while each also receiving a $1 million achievement prize, for having the best performance in two key demographic groups: native English speakers and English language learners.

A panel of independent, expert judges determined grand prize winners after their apps generated the greatest gains between a pre- and post-test, which were administered approximately one year apart to learners in a 12-month field test in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Philadelphia. After careful review of overall student achievement among both native English speakers and English language learners who initially were reading English at a third-grade level or below, the judges declared a tie between the two top performing apps:

  • Learning Upgrade (San Diego, California) – Led by Vinod Lobo, the team helps students learn English and math “the fun way” through songs, video, games and rewards. The app is available on both Android and iOS devices at no cost.
  • People ForWords (Dallas, Texas) – Led by Southern Methodist University’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, in collaboration with SMU’s Guildhall and Literacy Instruction for Texas, the People ForWords team has developed “Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis,” a mobile game based on an archeological adventure storyline to help adult learners improve their English reading skills. The app is currently available on Android devices at no cost.

“We believe the ability to read proficiently and a basic education are fundamental to a person’s success in society. When we helped launch the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, we hoped to find a way to eliminate barriers and help create equal access to educational instruction for all individuals,” said Denine Torr of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. “We are excited about the impact these innovative, award-winning apps will have on reducing literacy program waiting lists while increasing their capacity to serve and reach students during times that fit within their busy lives.”

Jeb Bush, together with Denine Torr of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and XPRIZE board member Amir Ansari, announced the grand prize winners at the Barbara Bush Foundation’s Florida Celebration of Reading in Miami. The event also celebrated the legacy of Mrs. Bush and featured guest speakers including humorist Dave Barry, the #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA TODAY.

The second phase of the initiative is the upcoming $1 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition, a 15-month competition for organizations, communities and individuals to recruit adult learners to download and use the apps developed by the two grand prize-winning teams along with the following two finalist teams:

  • AmritaCREATE, Amrita University (Amritapuri, Kerala, India) – Inspired by Amrita University’s Chancellor AMMA and led by Dr. Prema Nedungadi, this team of educators and developers has created a personalized learning app along with engaging, culturally appropriate e-content linked to life skills. The app is currently available on Android and iOS devices at no cost.
  • Cell-Ed (Oakland, California) – Led by Dr. Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, this team brings more than 20 years of EdTech experience with low income, low-literate adults in the U.S. and worldwide by offering on-demand essential skills, micro-lessons and personalized coaching on any mobile device, without internet.

Along with Learning Upgrade and People ForWords, AmritaCREATE and Cell-Ed will each receive $125,000 for their participation in the Communities Competition.

“XPRIZE is a powerful platform for impact, and we’re so proud of have been a part of this historic effort to empower adults to take their learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE. “Through all their efforts and creativity, Learning Upgrade, People ForWords and all of the competing teams have done remarkable work in supporting adult literacy, and are proof that innovation and competition can help solve some of the greatest challenges of our time.” 

In the Communities Competition, a total of $1 million will be awarded, with $500,000 available for teams who submit the most innovative, feasible and scalable plans, and $500,000 for teams who recruit the most adult learners to download and consistently use the learning apps.

“For 30 years, the Barbara Bush Foundation has played a leadership role in the field of adult and family literacy,” said British A. Robinson, President and CEO of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. “The Adult Literacy XPRIZE celebrates the enduring legacy of Barbara Bush and the Foundation’s commitment to ending the epidemic of low literacy in the United States.” For more information about the winning teams and the Communities Competition, visit and

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