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Education Efforts Garner Tech Awards

Here's a report from contributing blogger Tim Ebner:

Three education laureates stood beside former Vice President Al Gore and 11 other awardees last week at The Tech Awards. Hosted by the Tech Museum for Innovation in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 20, the awards recognize achievements in the environment, science, equality, health, and education fields that demonstrate how technology can inspire real social change.

Two of the awards were given for free online learning projects.

Salman Kahn was honored for the virtual learning site he developed, The Kahn Academy. The site features more than 1,200 instructional videos, on a You-Tube platform, that can explain everything from basic arithmetic to college level calculus, physics to finance. It's a popular K-12 resource in a number of countries because the lessons are offered in a variety of languages. Kahn says his videos have an average view rate of 40,000 hits per day.

Markus Hohenwarter was recognized for a similar program. GeoGebra is an open source software program available in many different languages for learners around the world. Using Java programming, Hohenwarter took basic geometry, algebra, and spreadsheet programs and combined them to create an authoring tool designed specifically for the classroom. With GeoGebra, Hohenwarter says students and teachers can build interactive worksheets that explain math equations through digital demonstrations.

"GeoGebra goes beyond a simple drawing program, but it's as simple to use as a drawing program," he said. "There's no programming language needed."

Hohenwarter hopes to advance the GeoGebra project by reworking the content-management system for mobile devices.


The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a nongovernmental agency which educates and feeds more than 1.2 million children every day in India, received the $50,000 Microsoft Education Award.

The NGO has used technology to support its mission: that no child should be deprived of an education because of hunger. It has built a network that supports what is now the world's largest midday lunch program. Akshaya Patra is a Sanskrit phrase, meaning "abundant, inexhaustible vessel." The foundation uses applied technology to deliver what seems like an inexhaustible supply of food. Through high-tech kitchens and supply chain management, the organization produces and delivers over a million nutritional meals to schools across India each day.

"We've used technology to raise millions of dollars to solve the challenge of hunger, which often times prevents children from receiving an education in India," said Madhu Sridhar, President and CEO of Akshaya Patra in the United States. "With technology we are able to reduce the cost of school lunches, so that we can feed one student for an entire year for only $14 dollars."

The delivery system, she added, has resulted in students who are more motivated to learn and attend school routinely.

Vice President Gore, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy Award for his work raising awareness of climate change, was awarded the Global Humanitarian award for that work, which includes efforts to advance environmental technology.

Photo: Madhu Sridhar accepting the 2009 Microsoft Education Award. Photo by Charlotte Fiorito, courtesy of the Tech Museum.

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