Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Why We’re Investing $6 Million in Literacy Learning Technologies

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February 04, 2013

Did you know that almost 70 percent of American eighth graders don’t read or write at grade level? That number is based on reading and writing proficiency as measured by the Nation’s Report Card.  And, if you found that number surprising, then consider this: Literacy rates have been hovering in this dismal range for about 40 years.

Today the Gates Foundation is announcing a $6 million competition to develop web-based applications that will help elementary and middle school students master reading and writing skills. When students can read well, it opens the door to so many other learning opportunities. And when they can’t, those doors remain locked tight.

Our Literacy Courseware Challenge is designed to encourage publishers, developers and entrepreneurs to propose groundbreaking ideas to help tackle this problem. Students learn in different ways, and every teacher knows how challenging it can be to meet those varying needs. We believe technology is primed to help.

Teachers have told us they need engaging, personalized digital courseware that will help fourth- to eighth-grade students master literacy skills in the Common Core State Standards. Digital tools that can adapt to a student’s skill level can greatly personalize the learning experience, particularly for students whose needs are not being met by the current education system. Technology can support students learning at their own pace, measure their progress, and help teachers design and deliver personalized instruction to their students.  

This project builds on the successes we have seen with students and teachers using digital math tools, and we believe innovative literacy tools can have a similar impact. Of course, no single program or app will fulfill all the learning needs of every student. That’s why we are planning to fund 20-30 winning proposals, for a total of $6 million in grant funding. The project also includes a pilot program for schools to test the winning products in real classrooms to ensure they meet the needs of teachers and students. We invite you to explore the Challenge and submission details and to spread the word among your networks.

If you’d like to continue to engage in this conversation, we encourage you to also get involved with Digital Learning Day, a national campaign celebrating teachers and the potential of technology in education. The national event is Wednesday, Feb. 6 and local events are popping up all over the country with more than 17,000 teachers already signed up to participate. We urge you to join in too!

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