The XPRIZE for Education Announcement Has Made My Morning, My Day, And My entire week

Ajibola Lawal
May 16 · 5 min read

At 4am today, something on my Twitter timeline made me leap from my bed. Peter Diamandis announced that The (Global Learning) XPRIZE for Education awardees had been chosen. No, I didn’t have a horse in the race. But it was quite the moment for me. It was like being invited to your neighbour’s firstborn’s graduation — a kid you had been quietly rooting for, and watching through the years.


I had first heard about the XPRIZE for Education in 2015 and I was skeptical. It didn’t stop me from keeping tabs on it. Could something like that even be possible? NOPE! What?! But what if it did? Oh God…

Here’s a bit of background:

Depending on who you ask, there are over 13 million children that are out of school in Nigeria. And according to UNICEF, if you line up all the children in the world that are out of school, for every 5 that you have, one of them is a Nigerian child.


Oh God

Educating children who otherwise wouldn’t get that, means so much to me. Educating every Nigerian child, means the entire world to me. But here’s the thing, and the reason this may not be common knowledge is that I have a big flaw. If I am not doing something about a thing, I won’t talk publicly about it. If I am doing something about it, then I still am not going to talk about it. The first one is because, well what am I doing about it? The second one is because, well what’s the big deal? If I don’t someone else will, right? Thus, it may not be public knowledge, but by God this is what gets my goat.

So what do I do instead? I sit down in my free time, and try to devise underground plans to try and fix the problem — from a Nigerian perspective, and from a global perspective. It’s how I came up with EduCapsules — my plan to mix wealth-redistribution and early-education into an incentive based double whammy program using Tablets (a story for another day). So I sit, and think long and hard about any Complex Compounding Problem (I define these as problems that I believe exist in an ecosystem of several problems, and do not have easy solutions. Such that if you try to fix one problem in the ecosystem, there are other confounding factors that cause your proposed solution to fail on arrival, or cause other problems) and then I write stuff (read: ideas/plans) down. Then I research to see what everybody is doing, think of ways to improve on my ideas and theirs, avoid pitfalls and solve for the problem.

It was in this sojourn in 2015 that I found out that the XPRIZE had a prize for Education. I was ecstatic and at the time, if I could afford it, I’d have put $15m on the table to sponsor it.

Because get this: the mission statement was to develop an app that a child could interact with unsupervised, to learn basic literacy and numeracy skills without the aid of a Teacher. *insert mind blown here* WHAT???

The Global Learning XPRIZE (for Education)

Now, get this. In my sojourn to trying to mentally fix the Complex Compounding Problem that is Nigerian Education (at the primary level — the different levels have their different problem branches that contribute to the web of problems), I found that across the board, the single biggest problem aside from Socio-cultural impediments (in Northern Nigeria) — the bias/sentiment against Western Education (I figured out a devious way to hack past the Ullamas that demonize Western Education, and sneakily fix for that btw) — is in trying to scale the basics of early education. Globally, there is a shortage of Teachers, right? In Nigeria, it’s even worse, there is a shortage of Teachers. And then, most of the Teachers that exist are shitty (through no fault of theirs, the system just churns out rubbish Teachers).


(I have a few ideas on this btw, that involve NYSC, re-engineering/privatising public education, and changing paradigms that define the entire Teacher Education Pipeline. But don’t mind me.)

But I digress. Enter, the (Global Learning) XPRIZE for Education.


What does this mean?

This means that the two finalists: kitkitschool and onebillion have been able to satisfactorily solve for the problem statement outlined above. And if you can simply provide the infrastructure necessary (The Tablets and access to the content), instead of having to work around the crippled Elephant of Nigerian Teachers in the room, you can directly focus on covering the basics of Literacy and Numeracy for Nigerian children. Of course, you would need to build a framework for delivering access to the tool and making sure it is used and delivers the expected outcomes. I mean, of course, you can’t Tech Away The Problem, as I am always saying about Tech solutions to Nigerian problems. And of course, having a piece of software is not going to miraculously solve the Nigerian Primary Education problem, but it’s about 40% of the problem solved, believe me.

My mind has been buzzing with the possibilities ALL DAY. And I have been annoying the people I care about, with my excitement over this, with that same energy. I will likely share tomorrow where my thoughts are at, with respect to possibilities and next steps and what we can do to turbocharge the existing solutions. I am likely going to toss my hat in the ring to see how I can help, but let’s see where that gets us.

Later! Let me go and continue bouncing off the walls!


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