Fighting modern illiteracy

Photo of Jinho Kwak
3 2

Written by

Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Idea (hoping to get started in the future)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

My mother is a teacher, and she is personally aware of the struggles students with dyslexia go through. One first grade student of hers had been reading chapter books fluently since preschool. However, she could not spell short, simple words like “make” and “you”: she had dyslexia with a visual memory deficit as well as a phonological deficit. However, her greatest talent was in storytelling, and my mother worried that what she had to say would go unacknowledged or lost if she was not able to write to her full potential. When I heard this story, I began thinking of potential solutions for education while working around dyslexia. While it is helpful to teaching phonemes and root words, I thought there must be a different way to increase her memory by providing her auditory learning experiences rather than only relying on visual memory.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Up to 20% of people in US have dyslexia, and only 2% of them are enrolled in undergraduate programs. On top of that, about 70% of juvenile offenders are dyslexic. 80% of those with learning disabilities are dyslexic. Functional illiteracy in USA is about 20%, and of these people, 50% are dyslexic. Challenges from living with dyslexia can be major causes for juvenile delinquency, high crime rates, illiteracy, unemployment, and other social issues.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

When my mother tried spelling out each word 5 times for her student, she was able to write words correctly at the same speed as other students. Then, other problems arose. It was labor intensive for the teacher and there were more students who needed similar attention. When students tried to spell words out by themselves, they confused each other and distracted their peers. Because people with dyslexia have trouble visually distinguishing the forms of individual letters, a program that audibly spells them out can circumvent their main problem by teaching them word spellings in a way that is friendlier to them. Although there is a movement toward a multi-sensory approach to dyslexia, such as speech-to-text and text-to-speech programs and auto-correction functions, dyslexics still do not get the help to learn auditory spelling. This program could take the form of an app, running in the background of a computer or phone, which could allow a user to tap a word and have it spelled out for help while going about normal activities. Though this program may not solve all troubles, it will increase the confidence of dyslexic people and will provide necessary care for 20% of our community

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

To develop this project past the idea phase, it will be necessary to create the actual program, market the program to users, and gain partners to implement the program. Young people involved with this project can help with writing code for the program. For the marketing, organizations or companies that get involved can help by incorporating the program into their websites or devices they sell. Contributors, especially young people, can help by spreading awareness of the program and distributing copies of the program on social media.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

While existing solutions for spelling focus on visual learning, this project will work through auditory learning, allowing those with visual learning deficits to work around their challenges. Non-dyslexic people who just happen to be auditory learners can greatly benefit from this program as well. Additionally, this project will have the benefit of providing automatic assistance for spelling, independent of a user having to look up a word or ask for help from a teacher. The program will also be free to download, and this accessibility will help spread the solution to a wide number of people.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The project will focus on auditory input over visual input, helping students with dyslexia. The program will be freely available, and because of its simplicity and instant use, will be usable by a wide range of people. If school districts became partners and adopted the program, especially on students’ laptops, young people who would be more able to write with the help of the program would have a greater ability to engage with their communities and have their voices heard. Alleviating functional illiteracy in young people would unlock the contributions of a sizable portion of the population that could have been overlooked previously.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Currently, the program to spell out words out loud needs to be developed, which should not require much effort or coding skill, but could be expanded with further options. There is a need for marketing, so that potential users are aware of what tools are available to them. We would combine our skills with other young people in our community to achieve these ends.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Programmers are necessary for developing the program itself, and some partners or team members with experience with marketing would also be helpful.

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

Any companies and organizations will be able to adopt this program for free, allowing the program to be incorporated into sites regardless of whether a viewer has the program themselves. Voice to text programs, text to speech apps, audiobooks, digital textbooks, Wikipedia, online dictionaries, Amazon Kindle, and school districts, for example, would be ideal for incorporating the program. With the project itself, an advertisement could be put up for programmers, and many in the local community would likely respond, with programming being popular among young people. Additionally, the contributions could be coordinated in an open source way, with the code open for anyone to build on top of. After the creation of the program, young people in the community would be in a good position to spread and distribute it, such as through social media. When young people get to know that a fellow high school student came up with this idea by listening to another student's problem, this may inspire other young people to listen to others, which is the core value of a leader in the next generation.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 60%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 40%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 20%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 60%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 20%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 60%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 20%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 40%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 40%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anna Steenbakkers

What a great idea! Have you been able to test it out on multiple dyslexic students yet? I'm looking forward to seeing how this will affect the current teaching system!

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