Rep. Adam Smith has named Subhadra Vadlamannati, an 11th Grader at Mercer Island High School, as the winner of the 2022 Congressional App Challenge in Washington’s Ninth District.
When asked what inspired the creation of EduLang, the student said, ”I have been volunteering with refugee organizations since 2020, offering STEM after-school programs. I noticed that many children there couldn’t take advantage of these classes because of a lack of English language skills. Unfortunately, our education systems have not provided adequate resources for English language learners that can help them progress at the same pace as other learners in non-language aspects of education. The root cause lies in the inability to source teaching material and staff that is proficient in the languages spoken by these learners. Research shows that children who have a strong foundation in their home language more easily learn a second language. However, there weren’t many bilingual teachers that could communicate in the native language of the child and their family to help them.
I started exploring ways of bridging the language gap and wanted to build a scalable solution that could at least help students and families that were proficient in their own native language. Unfortunately, most commercial products in the market did not serve the low-resource languages and dialects that these families spoke. Under these circumstances, speakers of low resource languages will continue to be marginalized and the divide between them and the rest of the world will grow exponentially. I felt that if I could create bilingual content in English and the native language of the learner, especially childrens’ books, these kids and their families could take advantage of that content to teach themselves English. I realized that this could only be done at scale by leveraging natural language processing. I met with the CEOs of a few startups that were working in the language translation domain and realized that a few of them provided APIs for language translation. I therefore came up with the idea of leveraging these language translation APIs to build a multilingual mobile children’s library that augments and accelerates English language learning among kids who have a proficiency in a low-resource language. A key element of creating a multilingual library is to find content that is interesting and culturally relevant for the reader. A refugee child arriving from Africa may not relate to most American content for example. I identified open source African children’s books and also partnered with organizations that generated original Ethiopian content. I then drew mockups and designs for the app, learned and leveraged Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to build the V1 version of the app.”
The Congressional App Challenge smashed previous participation records in 2022. All told, 9,011 students registered for this year’s competition – creating 2,707 fully-functioning apps for 335 Members of Congress across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and the District of Columbia. This year’s competition set the record for most student registrations, most apps submitted, most apps per district submitted, and most districts receiving over 20 apps. The wildly successful competition continues to impress upon House Members the importance of computer science education and the need to develop a pipeline of diverse, domestic STEM talent.
The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, Rise, theCoderSchool, Apple, and others.
The 2023 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2023, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.