Brazil programme awarded UNESCO Prize for using AI to improve writing skills

According to the 2018 edition of the Brazilian Functional Literacy Indicator, while over the last 18 years progress has been made in the populations schooling rate, the level of functional literacy remains low. –To tackle this problem, Letrus, an education technology startup and one of the laureates of 2019 UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa-Al Khalifa for the use of ICT in Education, creates for Brazilian students a personalized learning experience aided by artificial intelligence (AI).

In a collaboration between teachers and machine, the Letrus literacy program gives students an immediate feedback on their writing by identifying writing patterns. The essays are then reviewed by a teacher who makes additional comments.

“Similar to the technological achievements applied to diagnose patients, Letrus offers these devices to the world of literacy and education. In the same way that science has an excellent potential to help with more strategic decisions, Letrus and teachers are coming together to improve our students’ learning paths” says Letrus co-founder Luis Junqueiras.

For the Letrus co-founder, new technology and AI in particular implies a human dimension. “The blackboard is a technology, the eraser is a technology. All of them occupy a specific function modeled by the human dimension.” This technology wouldn’t be possible without the human teamwork and brainpower behind these innovations: “The multidisciplinary human nature of planning together, uniting linguistic and pedagogical decisions with the atmosphere of code writing is what makes the experience powerful for educators.”

It all started when he was a student at the Institute of Language Studies at the State University of Campinas in 2005. A chance encounter with Professor Davina made him realize the impact writing and freedom of expression can have on the lives of students. From his own experience as a teacher, he then launched the First Book Project (Projeto Primeiro Livro) to help children and adults publish their own books and learned from the challenges they encountered. This finally led him to create the Letrus program to help teachers and students overcome these challenges.

To date, over 65,000 students have already used the programme throughout Brazil’s 26 states. In 2019, a partnership with Espírito Santo State’s Department of Education took the program to 54 municipalities in the state of Espírito Santo, reaching 12,000 students and 400 teachers from 121 schools. In this project, 90% of schools improved their students’ grades after a five-month period.

For the future, Letrus co-founder wants to increase the scale and quality of their service at a cheaper price so that it can be “accessible to citizens of any age”. He also hopes to inspire other programmes for future generations with a message: “Together, we need to engage in movements in favor of otherness, diversity and wisdom.”

As for the prize itself, Luis Junqueira welcomes the “energy boost” this recognition is bringing to his team as well as the new opportunities for partnerships in the field of education this award opens the door to.

“At the same time, the award symbolizes that we are moving in the right direction and that the trail now has more light and possibilities to open new doors in the future.”