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Peter Cinat, Aisha Bukhari, Jamie Austin and Lak Chinta
Peter Cinat, Aisha Bukhari, Jamie Austin and Lak Chinta. Photo courtesy of Team Attollo

Using Their Words

A U of T startup gives kids a leg up with language

Language learning depends on input. By age three, a child from a high-income family will generally have been exposed to millions more words than a child from a poorer socio-economic background (research shows that higher-income parents have more time and energy to talk to their toddlers). By closing this “word gap,” the playing field can be levelled and the underprivileged, empowered.

U of T’s Team Attollo – alumni Peter Cinat (BASc 2002, MBA 2014), Lak Chinta (PhD 2009, MBA 2015), Aisha Bukhari (BASc 2008, MBA 2015) and Jamie Austin (PhD 2012, MBA 2015) – have found a way to do that. Their Talking Sticker project is one of six finalists for the US$1-million Hult Prize – the world’s largest student competition to solve global problems and implement social change. The winner will be announced in September.

How do stickers talk? A child points a low-cost electronic reader at a coded sticker (which cost just pennies apiece) and the sticker responds – speaking, reading or even singing – with pre-recorded content that can include the voices of their own parents. Talking Stickers can speak different languages, present a range of age-appropriate content, and, as Austin explains, “turn any household item into an educational toy.”

They’re already raising funds, are partnered with U of T’s Semaphore Research Cluster and Toronto’s Autodesk Research, and are in talks with global organizations such as Right to Play, Aga Khan Foundation and UNICEF.

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