GLEN World: An Introduction

In today’s globalized world, proficiency in English is the key to educational and economic opportunity.  Our mission at GLEN (GLobal ENglish) World is to scale English literacy to unlock these opportunities for every child.  

The need for scaling is clear.  Even in an English speaking country like the United States, a significant percentage of schoolchildren (e.g., 20% in California) are classified as “English language learners (ELLs).”  It is challenging for teachers to fully integrate and engage English language learners in the few hours available to them in the classroom, and deficiency in language skills severely impedes every other academic enterprise, including science and mathematics.  In developing nations such as India, the need is even more dire: knowledge of English is a clear dividing line between the middle class and the poor. Face-to-face instruction does not scale to these needs; there are simply not enough qualified English teachers who would be willing and able to teach English in remote or poverty-stricken areas. 

Over 20% of school going children in California are classified as “English Language Learners (ELL)”. The deficiency in language skills severely impedes every other academic enterprise, including science and mathematics.

The natural approach to scaling is via digital content. In the United States, digital content can be deployed opportunistically for enrichment and intervention programs for ELLs in their homes and in preschools, as well as in schools.  Even in the most remote areas in developing nations, digital content can now be deployed via low-cost mobile devices without requiring continuous Internet connectivity. At GLEN World, we are therefore developing digital content to bring children from “zero to reading,” without requiring prior exposure to English and without relying on knowledge of any other language. 

Our immersive digital content is designed for personalized guided learning, presented within an engaging framework that relies heavily on imagery and audio. It is based on accepted pedagogical principles of second language acquisition, targeting the fundamental skills required for literacy: vocabulary knowledge  (meaning of words), phonological awareness (recognition of sounds), and orthographic awareness (recognition of spelling). The centerpiece is a guided lesson plan with embedded assessment and user-adaptive skill strengthening modules, which provides the basis for continued exploration of other games and exercises.  We have also developed a suite of illustrated audiobooks (both children’s classics and original stories written by authors in the GLEN World team), illustrated rhymes and short animated vignettes, designed to stimulate kids’ imagination and accelerate learning.

GLEN World’s content is presented within an engaging framework that relies heavily on imagery and audio, with a goal to enable kids to go from “zero to reading” with minimal skilled adult supervision.

GLEN World is a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to serving disadvantaged children.  The GLEN World team includes seasoned educators, authors, animators, established graphic artists, and engineers.  A unique strength is our connection with two premier research universities, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), with the close involvement of faculty with expertise spanning second language acquisition, education, engineering, and machine learning.

We realize that “zero to reading” is one of the hardest challenges that we could have taken on, and are therefore constantly evolving as we get more feedback. We have tested early versions of our content (focusing on reading / writing) in small-scale pilots in California pre-schools and elementary schools with a large proportion of ELLs. The response was encouraging, in that children enjoyed the content, and the benefits of our self-learning model for keeping children engaged with minimal adult supervision was evident.  However, a key feedback from teachers was that more guidance and assessment was required to inform teachers of children’s needs. Based on this feedback, we have developed guided learning content with embedded assessment and user-adaptive skill-strengthening modules. A version of this content received an encouraging response in a pilot in a remote village in northern India and showed the strong demand (learner aspiration). The India pilot also highlighted the need for (a) personalized, self-learning content that adapts to individual user’s learning progress, (b) frequent assessments and consequent skill-strengthening modules embedded throughout the content, and (c) effective metrics collection framework for assessing user learning outcomes.  These have all been included in our current content design. We were also repeatedly asked for content to help learn spoken English. We are now working on machine learning based solutions to address this need.

What’s next for GLEN World? We are looking forward to releasing our new Android and web apps soon! We plan to make our content publicly available via Google Play Store and via our local and international deployment partners. We cannot wait to see GLEN World making a positive impact in kids’ lives all over the world!