Tech developed by Dublin tech firm SoapBox Labs has been chosen for a $30m educational programme backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to boost literacy among children.

The company, founded by Dr Patricia Scanlon (pictured above) whom ThinkBusiness recently interviewed, will supply its technology to the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) – part of Florida University – to develop next generation literacy assessments for students.

“SoapBox Labs has developed a unique speech recognition technology that actually works for children,” said Dr. Yaacov Petscher, an associate director at FCRR and Associate Professor at FSU.

“This technology was developed to identify at a very early stage when kids are struggling with language or literacy development”

“This collaboration is about harnessing the transformative potential of speech recognition technology to develop next-generation literacy assessments that will enable educators to better understand children’s reading and language skills.

“Speech recognition holds immense potential, to better identify a child’s likelihood for literacy success, and to reduce the risk of bias for dual language learners or children who speak with a dialect variation. An immersive, reliable, and efficient assessment system like this can hopefully revolutionize the way we think about assessing children.”

A voice emerges for improving childhood literacy skills

Developing literacy skills during early childhood is a critical foundation to later student success in school and life, but literacy remains a challenge for millions of children around the world. While literacy assessment is critical to identifying challenges early on, young children are unable to perform the sort of tasks associated with traditional formative assessments.

Unlike the speech recognition technology found in mainstream voice assistants, SoapBox Labs’ speech recognition technology was built specifically for kids and their early literacy needs.

FCRR’s pilot studies of SoapBox Labs’ speech recognition technology commenced in September 2019 with assessments of 1,000 students – from kindergarten through 2nd grade – across Florida, Oregon, Atlanta and South Carolina.

The partnership between SoapBox Labs and FCRR is part of the Reach Every Reader initiative, a partnership between the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative, Florida State University, and expert practitioners, students and families across the US to develop effective solutions for readers. Reach Every Reader was launched in early 2018 with funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).

“This technology was developed to identify at a very early stage when kids are struggling with language or literacy development,” stated Dr Scanlon.

“Our technology delivers an interactive process that is accurate, providing immediate feedback to children, parents and teachers on a child’s progress along the journey to literacy.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 6 November, 2019

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