Three edtech start-ups, the UAE’s TeachMeNow, the UK’s Chatterbox and Nigeria’s dot Learn, have won the inaugural ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize instituted by The Varkey Foundation to recognize the most innovative technology destined to have a radical impact on education in low-income and emerging world countries.

All three winners will be awarded US$25,000 as well as the unique opportunity to pilot their technology in partner schools in Western Cape, South Africa.

Over 40 startups were selected to pitch for the ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize. The winners were chosen from six finalists that included Learning Machine (New York), Localized Inc (USA and MENA) and The Biz Nation (Colombia). They pitched to an expert panel of judges, made up of venture capitalists, philanthropic investors, experts in edtech and learning sciences, and senior education policymakers as well as a live voting audience of Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) delegates made up of leading education figures from public, private and social sectors.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation and the Next Billion Prize, said: “Over one billion young people – a number growing every day – are being denied what should be the birthright of every single child in the 21st century, no matter where they live: a good education that allows them to make the most of their God-given talents.

“We have launched the ‘Next Billion Prize’ to highlight technology’s potential to tackle the problems that have proven too difficult for successive generations of politicians to solve. Our fervent hope is that the prize inspires practical and persistent entrepreneurs the world over to come forward with fresh tech ideas. These ideas must be hardy enough to improve education in regions where young people are denied access to a good quality teacher and a great learning environment.”

Chatterbox is an online language school powered by refugees. The web platform harnesses the wasted talent of unemployed professionals who are refugees, offering them work as on-line and in-person language tutors. Chatterbox counts several UK universities and major non-profits and corporations among its clients. “Refugees with degrees and valuable skills still face shockingly high levels of underemployment. An idea like Chatterbox has never been more urgently needed,” said Chatterbox Chief Executive Mursal Hedayat.

dot Learn makes online video e-learning accessible on slow, expensive internet connections for users in low-income countries. Its technology reduces the file-size of learning videos, requiring 1/100th of the bandwidth to watch. At current data prices in Kenya and Nigeria, this means a student or learner can access five hours of online learning for about the cost of sending a single text message ($0.014). Dot Learn CEO Sam Bhattacharyya said: “The issue isn’t so much the lack of internet but the cost of internet. We are going to make online learning work for the next billion by making it as affordable and accessible as text messaging.”

TeachMeNow is a Dubai-based global marketplace that connects teachers, experts, and mentors to students. The technology combines scheduling, payments and live virtual sessions that can connect on any device. It empowers tens of thousands of teachers to create their own online businesses, with some earning over US$100,000 last year. The first class happened between a professor in Venezuela teaching a Saudi-Arabia-based student Spanish.

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TeachMeNow Managing Director Thea Myhrvold said: “As a female entrepreneur, I felt it was important to create positive stories for and from the Middle East. That’s why I came back to the UAE to start TeachMeNow. Now, we empower tens of thousands of teachers, teacher entrepreneurs, schools, institutions to reach students all over the world.”

The Next Billion Edtech Prize identifies, spotlights and celebrates the world’s leading edtech start-ups that have shown ingenuity and innovation in that they can improve learning in parts of the world where there is limited access to good quality teaching.

The ‘Next Billion’ prize is the focal point of Tomorrow, a new edtech summit taking place for the first time at the GESF. All the ed-tech startups pitching in the ‘Next Billion’ Prize will also have a “money can’t buy” opportunity to participate in:

  • Ministerial Mentoring
  • Invest in Edtech
  • Business Mentoring with Paperclip
  • Foundation Consultation
  • Mentoring in Learning Sciences
  • UCL Presentation of new edtech research

For more information, read here.

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