Scholastic and SoapBox Labs have recently come together to make speech recognition technology accessible to elementary schools across America.
The two announced their strategic partnership in late February, in addition to the introduction of Ready4Reading, an educational curriculum from Scholastic that uses artificial intelligence (AI) from SoapBox Labs to acknowledge children’s speech and identify any complications with their reading fluency.
“We’re eager to unlock the power of voice in early reading instruction with the launch of SoapBox-powered Ready4Reading, and many more programs to come,” said Rose Else-Mitchell, the president of Scholastic Education Solutions.
According to Scholastic, the two partners are hoping to introduce Ready4Reading to US classrooms this summer. With school districts and other academic institutions banning the use of AI-powered tools like ChatGPT, it’s another development in the ongoing discussion about the role of language technology — from automatic speech recognition and machine translation to generative AI — in a classroom setting.
For their part, Scholastic and SoapBox Labs have made a vested effort to make their technology inclusive — according to Scholastic, that means equipping Ready4Reading with technology that’s able to recognize a child’s speech regardless of their “race, background, age, or ethnicity.” Historically, speech recognition has had trouble with recognizing young children’s voices, and it’s also been known to struggle with nonstandard accents.
By analyzing a child’s speech as they read along, the technology allows teachers to track their students’ progress and identify areas where they may be struggling — and even the underlying reasons why.
Though it remains to be seen how widely school districts will adopt automatic speech recognition tools like that of Scholastic and SoapBox Labs, educators are still figuring out how to deal with other AI tools. When ChatGPT first launched at the end of 2022, many educators feared it would encourage academic dishonesty among students. As a result, many US school districts have since banned students from accessing it on school-owned computers.
Still, others in the classroom believe it has untapped potential for educational use — in a January op-ed for the New York Times, tech columnist Kevin Roose wrote that banning ChatGPT in classrooms was a misdirected move.
“I believe schools should thoughtfully embrace ChatGPT as a teaching aid — one that could unlock student creativity, offer personalized tutoring, and better prepare students to work alongside A.I. systems as adults,” he writes.
And even MT has been the subject of debate when it comes to classroom usage. While some argue that using Google Translate in a language class is outright cheating no matter what, others view it as no different from using a calculator on a math exam.