There is a global learning crisis – more than 600 million children and young people in school are unable to attain minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. For out-of-school children, foundational skills in literacy and numeracy are further from grasp. UNICEF data shows that more than 1 billion children are at further risk of falling behind due to school closures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19. Evidence shows that two years on from initial lock down measures, less than half of countries are implementing learning recovery strategies at scale to help children catch up.
In a bid to disrupt these trends, UNICEF Office of Innovation and the world’s largest start-up competition, The Extreme Tech Challenge ( XTC) through the UNICEF EdTech Awards tasked the global tech sector to develop solutions to improve or enhance the learning outcomes and experiences of 100 million children. This search for problem-solving ‘Blue Unicorns’, led to the submission of more than 124 education tech solutions from start-up companies in over 40 countries.
Finalists and award winners will receive global visibility, networking opportunities and potential connections to the resources they need to scale their ventures by joining the community of the UNICEF Learning Innovation Hub in Helsinki, a global home for the architects of the future of learning.
Ten finalists have been shortlisted and judges will select a winner from solutions ranging from Artificial Intelligence (AI) mechanisms educating children on the autistic spectrum, gamified early literacy tools, simplified teaching aids, play learning platforms for early childhood education, remote software development and a barrier-breaking platform granting access to learning.
The start-ups hoping to solve the learning crisis for 100 million children are:
AFRILEARN This Nigeria-based startup dubbed as ‘school in the pocket’ has already made gains in connecting African children and young people impacted by the digital divide with personalized on and offline learning. Inspired by a theory of change to address the needs of the 263 million out-of-school children in Africa and an 83% failure rate at secondary school entrance exams, Afrilearn is targeting a market of about 300 million learners aged 6–18 in West Africa with the hopes to reaching 30 million learners in a few years.
CLASSUM The South Korean startup is an online learning platform which simplifies and enhances the learning experience for both tutors and learners and is used by more than 5000 schools, corporates and organizations. The agile and intuitive platform equips teachers to create interactive sessions and monitor the progress of learners effectively using Artificial Intelligence and data-driven insights.
COGNIABLE This Indian company uses data and machine learning to provide remote assessment and support for children with autism, their parents or caregivers and clinicians. The app and online portal addresses the lack of access to quality, timely and affordable interventions through personalized automated assessments creating predictive interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Assessments are complemented by a learning platform with a child-specific education plan, guide on teaching procedures, training videos, a development program with progress updates.
EDUTEN The Finnish company is a gamified mathematics learning platform already in use in over 50 countries and uses AI to help teachers differentiate and adapt content to meet the specific learning needs of each child. It functions as an online workbook with automated scoring and assessment. The system can be easily modified to country-specific curricula, cultures and languages.
EKIDZ.EU This Germany-based start-up takes on the linguistic barriers to learning by changing the way languages are taught and learned at school. Using an AI powered assessment and adaptive feedback feature, it helps learners develop phonological awareness, fluency and comprehension teaching language skills according to each student’s abilities and needs.
GRAPHOGAME The startup from Finland makes learning to read more fun by teaching early literacy through game technology. It operates a business model of producing bespoke learning apps, and distributing on behalf of service providers including ministries of education and NGOs
KIDESCIENCE The Finnish company provides early childhood education with a play-based platform with hundreds of activities and training modules for early years educators. It’s described as the ‘Netflix of playful early childhood education’ and features engaging stories and practical experiments in more than 80 lessons complete with instruction guides for scientific processing skills and problem solving.
LINGOKIDS This Spanish startup is a play learning app for 2–8-year-olds currently reaching 45 million families globally with a multi-platform approach including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram to engage parents and caregivers. It aims to provide access to learning opportunities with a personalized, tiered and cross-curricula game-based learning approach.
MICROVERSE This company from the USA is a learn-now-pay-later online school for remote software developers and is removing barriers to career opportunities. It aims to provide high-quality learning using a project-based, peer learning and work experience model. It records a 70% user completion rate and 90% employment status within 6 months of completing the course.
TAGHIVE The startup spanning across South Korea and India has built a unified learning platform for 1 million public schools in India. It aims to address poor learning outcomes for children there where 49% of students at grade 5 are unable to perform grade 2 level mathematics and 25% teacher absenteeism is recorded daily. Serving the needs of teachers, parents, caregivers or students, its Class Saathi mobile device can be used in areas with little or no access to the internet or electricity and includes a suite of hard and software resources which allow for personalized content creation, skill mapping, personalized testing and score prediction.
For updates on the competition follow UNICEF Office of Innovation and XTC on social media with the details below.
About Extreme Tech Challenge
Extreme Tech Challenge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit corporation whose mission is to empower startups creating new tech innovations to address global challenges. It is the world’s largest ecosystem and competition for purpose-driven technology inspired by the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Extreme Tech Challenge™ competition is supported by leading corporations, venture capital investors, foundations, policymakers, universities and tech conferences to give exceptional startups the potential for global visibility, the opportunity to raise capital, the ability to network with global leaders, and access to world-class mentorship to help them pioneer technological breakthroughs that address our most extreme global challenges. A complete list of XTC partners and how to join can be found at www.extremetechchallenge.org.
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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
At UNICEF, innovative solutions take many forms: from tech innovation, including powerful tools like artificial intelligence and blockchains, to the frugal innovations that can easily be adopted, adapted and scaled up. With our presence across the world and in alignment with a wide range of partners, we have the footprint to ensure innovative solutions are designed and delivered with and for the generation of children today, but also set the pace of change possible for future generations of children.
For more information about UNICEF’s Global Office of Innovation:
UNICEF: Patty Alleman, Lead, Strategic Partnerships, Email: email@example.com
Extreme Tech Challenge : Victoria Slivkoff, Executive Managing Director, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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