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Dallas Will Be Testing Ground For New Literacy Apps In Global Contest

Bill Zeeble
"Education is this key to the future of our city," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

Adults learning to read in Dallas will help test apps designed to reduce illiteracy.

It’s part of a global competition to develop mobile applications aimed at adult learners. Dallas is one of three cities nationwide involved in field testing. On Tuesday, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings helped launch the local field test.

“Education is this key to the future of our city,” Rawlings said. “Up front and center: adult literacy and being able to speak English as a second language. That is something we’ve got to deal with.  But if we sit around waiting for the feds or the state level to figure this out, we’ll have another generation go by.”

Over the next year, eight semi-finalist teams will test their apps on adults who can only read at the third-grade level or below. The winning team gets $3 million as part of the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE.

Experts say that in just a dozen years, one-third of Dallas County residents could be illiterate. Raquel Ortiz used to be among those who could barely read. Then, with help, she improved.

She dropped out of school when she was 16, but she wanted to show her four children it’s never too late to start an education.

“They were looking at me every night studying and [said] ‘What are you doing, Mom?’ ‘I’m studying. I have a test tomorrow.’ And they’re like: ‘Good; I want to be like you.’ So that’s what I want to teach to them.”

One of the eight XPRIZE semifinalist teams is from North Texas. People ForWords is a partnership of SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, the university's GuildHallvideogame design program and the nonprofit Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT).

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.