Living First Languages Platform
Equipping Indigenous communities with the skills and digital tools to support children’s early language and literacy in their mother tongue.
Pitch us on your solution
There is overwhelming consensus from domestic and international research that children’s early learning occurs best in the language the child speaks most fluently
, - in their mother tongue. This rich stimulation lays the foundation for literacy. However, for many children of Indigenous and minority languages, there is a lack of adequate, accessible training for community members and a scarcity of quality learning resources in local languages.
The Living First Languages Platform (LFLP) consists of a unique combination of technology and training so that Indigenous communities have the knowledge and tools to support their children’s early language and pre-literacy development.
LFLP harnesses technology so that community members can create dynamic, interactive resources in their own languages, whilst bespoke training modules further support community members to provide young children with necessary early language and pre-literacy stimulation.
LFLP is a Google Impact Challenge finalist and the recipient of a 2019 SXSW Interactive Innovation Award.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Inadequate early childhood development exacerbates inequality and reduces economic growth. Children who do not reach their optimum development by the time they enter school experience significantly reduced educational, employment and social attainment.
Early childhood education is an important foundation to later literacy and cognitive development. However, research shows that early education needs to be delivered in a language that children can understand. Studies in locations as diverse as the USA, Peru, Cameroon and the Philippines show that early literacy develops best when children are able to explore key early concepts in their first language. Such studies also show strong correlations between first language use and educational, employment, health, well-being, and training outcomes. Without strong foundational education in their first language, children are limited in their ability to develop critical learning and cognitive skills, and to eventually reach their full potential.
Despite this well documented fact, formal education (including early education) in Australia is primarily delivered through English. Factors such as exclusionary government policies, a lack of training opportunities for local educators fluent in minority languages, and a lack of quality learning resources in minority languages, are barriers to quality early childhood education in Indigenous languages.
Who are you serving?
The LFLP has been developed by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) to meet the needs of children in remote Indigenous communities in Australia.
Across Australia, Indigenous children are less likely to participate in early childhood education and other early learning programs, despite evidence showing that such programs can provide a powerful opportunity to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage. This leads to much lower educational attainment and engagement in school, as measured by Australia’s National Assessment system, NAPLAN, and attendance rates.
A lack of linguistically inclusive early education is recognised by communities and leaders as a major factor in low levels of attainment and engagement of Indigenous children and families in early education. In remote areas, around two-thirds of Indigenous children speak some words of an Indigenous language, and in some communities, almost 100% of children encounter English for the first time when they enter school. Globally, around 221 million children do not have access to education in their first language.
ALNF, through the LFLP, seeks to make a real difference in the early literacy development of Indigenous and minority-language children in Australia and abroad.
What is your solution?
The Living First Language Platform (LFLP) is delivering powerful and tangible results for children in remote Indigenous communities through a careful combination of training and technology. ALNF’s approach includes:
- Consultation with local community members, Elders, educators, and service providers to adapt LFLP training and technology to meet local needs and circumstances;
- Evidence-based Early and Language and Literacy training based on a unique blend of speech and language pathology and early years educational best practice to build the capacity of local participants;
- An award-winning technological platform (the LFLP), which provide accessible, cross-device, mobile-first tools that local community members can use to build literacy resources for exploring the unique phonology, letter-sound patterns, vocabulary, sentences and stories in Indigenous languages.
- Empowers Indigenous language speakers to have governance over their language to teach their own children language and literacy skills in everyday activities and educational settings;
- Promotes family and community leadership;
- Provides Indigenous resources, strategies and skills that foster key language elements towards confident literacy knowledge and fluent practices.
ALNF, through the LFLP, is leveraging the combination of place-based initiatives with digital technology to provide the skills and a platform where speaker/community groups can collate, organise, share and disperse language elements as a vibrant living collection of language and literacy knowledge that are easily accessible.
The techniques which are central to the LFLP training and technology equip participants with clear, multisensory strategies and resources that lay the foundations for learning to read. This includes a focus on oral language, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development and early listening and reading comprehension. The LFLP strategy provides community members with approaches and resources that help them to teach their own children literacy across English and their First Languages.
This is highlighted in the following video case study from Indigenous communities in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of remote South Australia: https://youtu.be/QXaIb1RXraY
The LFLP is an internationally recognised product and service acknowledging the key role that mother tongue plays in engagement, collaboration and ultimately, the fight against transgenerational illiteracy. It was a finalist in the 2016 Google Impact Challenge and recently received the 2019 SXSW Interactive Innovation Award in the category of Innovation in Connecting People at the world-renowned SXSW festival in Austin, TX.
The LFLP provides an accessible, cross-platform digital solution with associated training that equips community members with the tools they need to develop resources and foster quality interactions in local languages.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?Sydney NSW, Australia
Our solution's stage of development:
Select one of the below:
New application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
ALNF believes innovation is required in four areas of language documentation: the (i) capture, (ii) storage, (iii) transcription, and (iv) display of language elements – e.g. words, sentences, stories and phonology. LFLP innovates in all four areas through its digital workflow.
We have worked with a market leading technology partner using Design Thinking techniques and Agile methodology whereby user experience is constantly monitored to continuously improve the application. This focus on the end user experience greatly increases speed of adoption and acceptance in the communities we work with.
A key design principle that differentiates LFLP is that we simultaneously seek to balance the priorities of capturing and storing language with the need to display the language in products of immediate benefit to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and individuals. We are dedicated to implementing solutions that can deployed by communities, with communities and for communities.
Our technology stack utilises the most modern digital infrastructure with open architecture using APIs for easy integration into other platforms, companies, governments and future components.
The CMS has been designed with RESTful APIs that allow the generation of further products from stored content. For example, we have identified a use case whereby communities can monetise their language by providing access to their dictionary. This could be used to create a 3rdparty application for a large mining company working near their community to improve communication, engagement and training as part of their Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
We have developed the cloud-based Content Management Systems (CMS) with the ability to generate new databases for many languages. We use the Django Framework as the core which uses Python hosting on AWS leveraging their services.
The CMS organises language data into variety of linguistic units, such as phonemes, words, semantic categories, sentences and texts (e.g. stories)
The existing CMS has been designed with RESTful APIs that allow us to generate further products from stored content. The first product created was an offline capable web app through which users can navigate through the text, audio and image content as well as allowing editors to submit and edit and categorise words, record associated audio and upload imagery.
With the initial focus on data entry we are now positioned to build custom learning applications on top of this curated content as well as improving the ease of entry for editors with a range of skills and abilities.
Please see high level overview of our technology stack:
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Many Indigenous children in Australia and abroad do not have access to early education in their mother tongue, despite strong evidence demonstrating significant learning gains can be achieved when children’s first languages are used in the early years.
The Theory of Change (below) demonstrates the pathways to overcoming this challenge and to achieving the goal of children under five developing critical learning and cognitive skills in their first language.
The LFLP engages educators, families and communities in the development and use of an interactive, multisensory tool that breaks oral Indigenous languages down into sounds, syllables, words, sentences and stories.
While still in the early phases, there are already promising indications that the LFLP is on track to achieving its goal:
- Output: there are over 5,000 words from eight different Australian Indigenous languages hosted on the LFLP, making it a rich, multisensory tool for early learning (as at Jul, 2019).
- Intermediate outcome: educators are reporting that they are using skills and resources developed through this program in their teaching. For example, an Indigenous Educator in the APY Lands said that ‘‘I am doing lots of activities and games in class in Pitjantjatjara, teaching them to read, know sounds and break up syllables” (reported in Nov, 2017) (See more here: https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/stories/learning-teach-language-skills-next-generation)
- Outcome: 83% of students in the APY Lands improved their phonological awareness, as measured through standardised assessment tools (as at end-2017). Phonological awareness is an important precursor to literacy success.
We are prioritising investment into analytics to more accurately track impact at each stage.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
In 2019, the LFLP is active in three communities: the Erub (Darnley) Island community of the Torres Strait, the Thaynakwith language community of Weipa in Far North Queensland, and the Anangu community of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of South Australia. This year, we have directly engaged with over 70 Elders, Language Facilitators, community members, teachers, young people, job seekers, and community organisation representatives across these three locations.
Within the coming year, we intend to scale up the LFLP to an additional seven language communities across Australia. We have recently signed a contract with the Australian Government that will see four sites come on board, and are in advanced talks with a State Government body that wishes to fund the LFLP in a further three languages. With this additional funding, we expect to engage a further 210 users in the LFLP.
Our goal for the next five years is to be operating in at least 35 languages, including 3 international languages and 2 corporate funding arrangements. Meeting this ambitious target would see us working with over 1,000 users and communities across Australia and internationally.
As noted elsewhere, a priority for the next 12 months is the development of more refined analytical tools to allow us to track platform usage in a more nuanced way.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
As stated above, our goal for the next five years is to be operating in at least 35 languages, including at least 3 international languages and 2 corporate funding arrangements. Meeting this ambitious target would see us working with over 1,000 users across Australia and abroad.
In order to help achieve these targets we have short term goals for our technology to make it more scalable, reliable, robust, accessible whilst remaining completely secure. In particular this will require improved digital onboarding and support to allow the platform to scale quickly.
In the longer term, we aim to be a leader on global stage in the protection revitalisation, and teaching of Indigenous languages.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
We are in the final phase of defining our digital strategy and investment roadmap for the next 3 years. As part of this exercise we have identified a number of technology capability gaps or barriers that we must address in order to achieve our strategic aspirations.
These key components are :
- White labelling to allow for customised look and feel for new entities outside of Australia and for corporate branding;
- Transition to React Native development framework to improve efficiency of building and maintaining new features ;
- Provisioning and opening up AI capability to accelerate transcription speed and allow wider collaboration ;
- Seamless Digital onboarding and support to reduce the cost of service and allow quicker scalability;
- Development of sophisticated analytics and monitoring features to demonstrate impact at each level of the Theory of Change; and
- Localisation of user interface to allow international usage in in Latin and non-Latin orthographies.
These components are still being scoped, designed and estimated. However, current thinking is in the region of AUD$1.2m.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are currently in the process of refreshing our digital strategy and investment roadmap with our technology vendors. This will outline the components and areas of investment or partnerships required to help achieve our goals.
Once we have completed our digital strategy and roadmap we intend to seek investment through either VC funding, partnerships, grants, private/corporate investment or more likely a combination of all.
Whilst we are finalising our scope and design for these larger components, we have a healthy backlog of Business as Usual (BAU) incremental enhancements from our users that will help us meet our near terms aspirations.
We also recognise that Analytics and Digital onboarding are fundamental to being able to scale and measure the impact of this product both domestically and globally. We are prioritising incremental investment into these areas as part of the BAU growth and are working with our next target users to ensure their requirements are factored into the design.
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Hybrid of for-profit and non-profit
If you selected other for the organization question, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
Currently five permanent staff work on the LFLP:
- Kim Kelly, Founder and Executive Director (10% on LFLP)
- Mary-Ruth Mendel, Founder and Executive Director (10% on LFLP)
- Eric Brace, Programs Director (45% on LFLP)
- Naomi Fillmore, First Languages Coordinator (30% on LFLP)
- Dom Bemrose, First Languages Trainer (20% on LFLP)
We also have a small team of technology contractors:
- Mark Macdufife, Acting CTO (40% FTE)
- Joseph Mark Digital Agency, Technology delivery scrum team 2-5 people (part time contractors)
To support local delivery of the Platform, we engage part-time Language Facilitators. On Erub Island, the Local Facilitator is engaged at 40% FTE.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
3 years. We have been actively working on the LFLP since late 2016 when we were recipients of Google Impact Challenge (GIC). The funding from GIC helped considerably towards our initial product build in 2017 with the MVP product launch in 2018.
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
ALNF feels well-placed to lead this initiative due to its significant experience working in the area of Indigenous literacy.
In 2005, ALNF spearheaded Reading and Writing in Warumunguin Tennant Creek, Northern Territory (NT) in partnership with the regional language centre, Papulu Apparr-Kari Cultural Centre. This caught the attention of the Social Justice Commissioner of the Australian Human Right Commission, who referenced this valuable work in the 2009 Social Justice Report. ALNF’s work was found to be an example of a collaborative, community-strengthening model.
This work was soon followed by work in Reading and Writing in Warrimiri conducted in partnership with speakers on Elcho Island, NT. Since that time, the ALNF has implemented biliteracy versions of its EL&L program in Anindilyakwa, Warrongo, and presently in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara. ALNF’s Anindilyakwa digital dictionary, which permitted young children and adults to see, hear, touch, manipulate and comprehend a growing corpus of relevant vocabulary, was a predecessor to the ALNF's work funded through the Google Impact Challenge (GIC) to establish the LFLP.
Since receiving the GIC support, ALNF has been able to secure further funding from the Australian Government to extend the LFLP to new language groups.
In 2019, the platform won the category of ‘Innovation in Connecting People’ at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Innovation Awards in Austin, Texas. We are incredibly honoured to be a recipient of this prestigious award, which is a win for First Languages in Australia and has the potential to impact individuals and communities across the globe.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
We are currently partnering with the following organisations in the delivery of the LFLP program:
- Joseph Marks (https://www.josephmark.com.au): technology design, development, and maintenance.
- My Pathways (https://www.mpath.com.au): Australia’s largest community development program contractor, partner for program delivery on Erub Island and in Weipa.
- South Australian Department for Education (https://www.education.sa.gov.au/): Support to implementation in Indigenous schools in the APY Lands.
Funding Partners have included :
- Google Australia
- Australian Federal Department of Communications and the Arts (https://www.communications.gov.au)
- Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (https://www.pmc.gov.au)
More broadly, we regularly consult with the following academic institutions :
- Centre of Excellence for Dynamics of Language (https://www.dynamicsoflanguage.edu.au)
- NSW Government Aboriginal Affairs (https://www.aboriginalaffairs.nsw.gov.au)
- Reconciliation Australia (https://www.reconciliation.org.au)
- Ninti One (https://www.nintione.com.au/)
What is your business model?
Given ALNF’s main objective is maximising the social impact of the LFLP, the financial model has been designed mostly as a ’cost coverage model’. This ensures that the fees can be as low as possible, whilst still providing the appropriate level of support is delivered to communities to ensure the platform is used effectively.
In addition to the language preservation benefits, this tool has multiple economic development and employment benefits in the relation to how it could support the vocational teacher training for local community members.
Primarily, ALNF works with government (state and federal) to design and deliver programs in communities with the LFLP as a core enabler. The paying ‘customer’ is government agencies or corporates. Primary beneficiaries are the communities.
The core value proposition is that the LFLP:
1. Is accessed, licensed,and managed by the community,with all content owned by specified elders or respected community members.
2. Promotes engaged learning using multimedia and storiesto provide deeper contextual understanding.
3. Is a powerful reconciliation tool, providing a scalable and wide-reaching mechanism to disseminate interactive language and literacy resources.
4. Provides ongoing opportunity for community revenue generation through the licensing of ‘light’ version.
5. Is used as a tool to facilitate local vocational training and local capacity building.
As mentioned, we are currently in the process of refreshing our business model and value proposition. The image below reflects our business model canvass at June 2018.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
As outlined previously, our business model is intended to be one of cost coverage. We have multiple pricing options for new languages or clients to ensure the viability of the platform, whilst at the same time ensuring it is as accessible as possible.
Each new language or opportunity is assessed individually against our existing capability and pricing is adjusted accordingly to ensure reinvestment into the Platform or for any new features required are factored into the pricing. For example, each new language using the current core platform features are onboarded by ALNF at a rate of AUD$100k per language per year with approx. 50% of this being reinvested into the LFLP platform to continue to improve the experience for all users. The residual 50% is reserved for program delivery in community.
As we continue to invest in key platform components that will improve efficiency, we expect a greatly increased margin as we onboard new languages at scale. For example, we will be investing in digital onboarding and training to reduce implementation costs.
Why are you applying to Solve?
The Living First Languages Platform (LFLP) is an early-stage digital enterprise that has been established after many years of experience in supporting local communities to develop literacy resources in local languages.
Solve provides an excellent opportunity to (a) raise awareness, (b) seek technical advice, (c) network with like-minded initiatives, and (d) attract funding and investment. Solve provides a platform whereby the LFLP can further capitalise on its successful digital implementation and receipt of significant awards (e.g. recipient of a SXSW Interactive Innovation Award and finalist in the Google Impact Challenge).
We believe that we have a quality, accessible product that can empower indigenous communities to develop powerful digital language and literacy resources in their languages.
Solve enables ALNF to spread the word about the LFLP to a larger global audience, and to seek feedback on the Platform’s local and global relevance.
Opportunities to seek further investment will enable ALNF to greatly enhance key features to enhance scalability, such as platform onboarding, localisation, and machine learning capabilities.
Concurrently, ALNFaims to tap into the expertise within the Solve community so it can pursue its ambitious roadmap with the best available technical advice.
LFLP is a field-tested product that is ready to be presented and tested to a broader audience. We are excited to be able to network with a global community of innovators and to learn from people’s successes and challenges.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
There are a number of organisations with whom LFLP would seek to partner which could accelerate development and distribution of the platform.
For instance, United Nations agencies, such as UNESCO, UNICEF and UN Women, would assist LFLP could assist in facilitating different end beneficiaries of the digital platform and its associated training. Through the ALNF, LFLP has engaged in correspondence with UNESCO (via the International Literacy Prize) and with UN Women (via the Second Change Education program). As LFLP matures, such partnerships would assist in the distribution of the solution.
LFLP would also seek to extend partnerships with tech-oriented organisations, such as Google and MIT, as a means to accelerate AI and natural language processing features on the platform’s roadmap. LFLP already has a strong relationship with Google, and it would seek to extend this relationship by seeking additional input from key Google experts, such as Daan van Esch. LFLP would also seek new partnerships with other experts, such as MIT’s Jiaming Luo and Regina Barzilay. Through these partnerships, LFLP would seek to enhance the way communities can collate, organise and present language resources in ways that enhance educational purposes.
LFLP would also seek to partner with many of the key providers of linguistic and educational software, particularly SIL International. Many of these software tools have powerful features which could be made accessible to the LFLP via APIs or file standards.
LFLP would value such partnerships which would assist with distribution, development and advanced processing.
If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.
If AI could be deployed to automatically recognise, transcribe and allocate language assets within a structured information system, then these assets could be called upon for further applications.
ALNF/LFLP is most interested in the further applications of this AI technology in the field of early education. Breaking the transcription barrier would increase the quantity of written texts in Indigenous languages, that can then be used to create early quality learning resources in Indigenous languages. Presently, developing learning resources in Indigenous languages requires significant human input from a small number of fluent speakers, who themselves may not be literate in the Indigenous language they speak.
We would use the AI Innovations Prize to accelerate one of strategic components of Provisioning and opening up AI capability to accelerate transcription speed and allow wider collaboration ;
1. Complete the platform architecture and data structure to better support AI metadata storage
2. Create a training data pipeline allowing extract, transform and loadfrom multiple collaborators/partners
3. Conduct a series of prototyping exercise to train and tune AI
4. Create a library of AI models for reuse and further collaboration.
We estimate that cost of the above to be AUD$200-$430k or US$140 – US$303k
The platform CMS will serve as one source into the AI modelling as well as the central location to store the results/outputs of AI processing. The LFLP platform would be a light-weight, accessible AI to populate the AI modelling and review outputs.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
The LFLP targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and seeks to build their capacity and confidence as language custodians, facilitators, and speakers. Around 46% of participants engaged in 2019 were female.
Engaging Indigenous women in language teaching activities is key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of low literacy. Evidence shows that many barriers to Indigenous children’s non-participation in early childhood education (including fear of racism, distrust of government services and schools, and lack of Indigenous staff) can be overcome by increased engagement of Indigenous staff, particularly women, in pre-school services.
As well as engaging women in the program’s activities, wherever possible, we also target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to take on paid leadership roles within the program. For example, on Erub Island, we have engaged a young, local women as the Language Facilitator. This Language Facilitator receives employment, training, and mentoring from ALNF, and has recently been honoured at a state-level event (Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Forum) as a “Young Champion” based on her work with ALNF and the LFLP.
Creating meaningful opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to be recognised for their work in language and education is critical to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. While female Indigenous employment rates are improving, up from 39.0 per cent in 2006 to 44.8 per cent in 2016, these rates are much lower than for non-indigenous Australians, whose employment rate has remained steady at around 72% for the last decade.
If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.