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“I do believe we can teach a child to read for less than a dollar.”

So said Shane Hill at the SXSW education-technology conference in Austin, Texas.

But how?

The Australian-born Hill created Mathletics, a popular math video game. After he sold that company in 2008, he attempted to build a nonprofit social venture to teach reading. He failed to attract philanthropic funding, however, and thus converted his venture into a Singapore-based for-profit company eight months ago. He’s now set to release his Skoolbo Core Skills reading learning game to the general public in three weeks. The game follows the antics of six kids and a dog (a sort of younger Scooby-Doo plus two) and is aimed at 5-year-olds to teach basic letter recognition and other early reading skills.

It’ll be free.

The business model involves a premium version that will cost $30 and give educators and parents more data on how a child is learning. But Hill expects that most people will use the free version.

He hopes to see his reading game in kindergarten classrooms, but he doesn’t think schools should spend money on scads of computers. “It doesn’t have to be one-to-one tablet per child,” said Hill. “You can do it just as effectively 10-to-one.”

“No one wants to see children on iPads for eight hours. But if a half hour is incredibly effective, that’s a good thing,” said Hill, who was a teacher for 11 years before he became a game developer.

Hill’s ambition is to teach the poorest in the developing world to read. He’s built a platform, which, he says, can be translated into other languages. The first non-English versions will be for Thailand and Vietnam.

“E-learning hasn’t worked so far. I believe it can. It needs to be free,” said Hill.

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Jill Barshay is a staff writer and editor who writes the weekly “Proof Points” column about education research and data. She taught algebra to ninth graders for the 2013-14 school year. In school,...

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