Digital tool to detect early reading issues gets Enterprise Ireland fundingLeigh Mc Gowranon January 10, 2022 at 12:01 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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An Irish project to detect early literacy issues in children has received €300,000 in funding by Enterprise Ireland.

Aimed at those who are just beginning to read, the Alpaca tool is designed to identify reading issues at a young age faster and more accurately than current paper-based assessments.

Principal investigator Dr. Jennifer O’Sullivan said Alpaca focuses on prevention rather than remediation of reading difficulties, as delayed reading intervention “can negatively affect many aspects of a child’s progress through school”.

“We want to identify children who are showing evidence of future reading difficulties before they begin to formally read. While this assessment tool is designed for use with beginning readers, it can also be used to identify children struggling with reading in older classes.” O’Sullivan added.

Dr Jennifer O’Sullivan from Marino Institute of Education. Image: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

Earlier funding from Enterprise Ireland allowed the team to carry out a feasibility study among teachers, where it received ‘overwhelmingly’ enthusiastic demand. It is hoped that Alpaca will be ready to test in schools by September 2022.

Current assessments involve one-on-one sessions between the pupil and a teacher which can take up to 30 minutes, which can cause losses in teaching time in a larger class. Alpaca is designed to create quick and accurate assessments of early literacy skills among all pupils in a class.

The project has been developed over 18 months between The Learnovate Centre, a global research and innovation centre in learning technologies, Marino Institute of Education and the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin.

“The problem of undetected literacy difficulties goes beyond the clear disadvantages to the child and cascades out to overburdened and expensive remedial resources.” Leranovate director Nessa McEniff said.

“This commercialisation project will provide a digital tool for early literacy screening and monitoring to primarily help teachers, Special Education Teachers and principals to solve the problem of assessing young children’s early literacy skills in a time-efficient, consistent and evidence-based manner.”

The Alpaca team is lead by Dr O’Sullivan who created the assessment and the digital delivery format that Alpaca will be based on as part of her PhD study. The €300,000 funding was granted under Enterprise Ireland’s commercialisation fund.

President of Marino Institute of Education, Prof Teresa O’Doherty said: “The awarding of this funding demonstrates the potential of high-quality, applied research to address a key national and international educational concern.”

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