FSU turns to speech tech startup to tackle childhood literacy issues

SOURCE: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
SoapBox Labs has partnered with a US research centre to improve children’s literacy assessments.

By U2B Staff 

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Florida State University (FSU) has enlisted the help of speech recognition technology company SoapBox Labs in a multi-year partnership to develop innovative language learning and literacy assessments for children. 

The Dublin-based tech startup was handpicked by FSU for its expertise in speech recognition technology calibrated specifically to recognise children’s voices. 

The partnership was initiated by FSU’s Florida Centre for Reading Research (FCRR), a research centre led by academic experts that focusses on reading growth, assessment, and instruction to benefit students within the state and around the world.


The development of literacy skills during a child’s early years can greatly enhance his or her academic prospects in the future. But while this may be true, traditional literacy assessments today can include tasks not suitable for young children.

This means it is harder to identify the problems that may be hindering the child’s progress and development to allow for early intervention.

This is why the research centre turned to SoapBox Labs.

speech recognition
SoapBox Labs’s next-generation speech recognition technology is specially designed to pick up children’s voices. Source: Tim Gouw/Unsplash.

The voice recognition technology developed by SoapBox Labs is unique as it specifically caters to children and their early literacy needs. 

“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,” said SoapBox Labs founder and CEO Dr Patricia Scanlon in a Silicon Republic report.

This technology proved effective during a pilot study at FCRR involving a total of 1,000 students ranging between five and eight years old. 

FCRR Associate Director and Associate Professor Dr Yaacov Petscher explained during the test that this technology could have transformative potential in developing literacy assessments and a better understanding of 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,” said Petscher. 

“An immersive, reliable and efficient assessment system like this can hopefully revolutionise the way we think about assessing children.”


The partnership is part of the Reach Every Reader initiative, which involves a wider network of collaboration between Florida State University and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative, Florida State University, and expert practitioners, students and families in the US. 

This overarching partnership is funded by the Chan Zuckerberg initiative and involves developing innovative solutions to challenges in childhood literacy.