By Justin Udo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  The Office of Adult Education in Philadelphia is turning to technology to help residents better their reading skills.

According to the office of Adult Education in Philadelphia, more than 500,000 people throughout the city need to improve their literacy skills in order to be ready for the work force.

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“It’s somewhat of an invisible crisis in Philadelphia and other major cities across the country,” said Anne Gemmell, Director of Family Learning in the Office of Adult Education. “About 40 million people across the country really struggle to read well in a way that opens doors for them to the 21st century economy.”

But now, the Office of Adult Education is teaming up with the XPRIZE Foundation to decrease those numbers by getting eight different literacy apps to as many people as possible in a beta trial competition taking place in cities, with Philadelphia as a major focus.

The organizations held a training session Wednesday so that people from all over the city could learn how the apps work and give out the information to folks in their communities, so they can download them and get the literacy help they need.

“They’ll provide feedback to the XPRIZE judges about which apps are working best, which ones are most effective,” Gemmell said, “and they’ll also receive a $25 gift card for participating in the whole distribution campaign.”

Rose Carwhell says she cannot wait to promote the free android apps to her friends and family so they can better their lives.

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“It’s a good program,” Carwhell said. “It’s promoting people to help them learn how to read to get jobs.”

Carwhell says too often people are too embarrassed to admit they cannot read, so the apps are a nice, discrete way for them to learn a very necessary skill.

“You can stay home, you don’t have to go out,” she said. “Wherever you are at you can just punch it in and begin to learn how to read.”

Officials say the literacy apps are meant to fit into users lifestyles, and since they’re on mobile phones they can bypass the digital divide.

“They may not have a desktop at home or Internet access at home,” Gemmell said, “and so the mobile app is important in that sense, because our research tells us that almost everybody has a phone and about 75% of low-income citizens across the country have a smartphone too.”

The app competition and beta test is scheduled to run for the next 12-15 weeks, with the winning app developers receiving a grant to help them further develop their product.

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Those interested in accessing the learning apps can call 866-566-5179.