Dyslexia week was in October, when this story was supposed to run, but take too much work, add a little kitten and set against a background of all the news in the world, and things get forgotten.
Luckily, the KOBI app isn’t a time limited offer, but a full made in Slovenia tool to help children with reading difficulties. Intended for those aged 6 to 12, it provides an essential suite of tools, including the proven technique of coloured letters, to help poor readers (re)gain confidence and independence, and learn to love the worlds opened up by books.
We got in touch with the team behind KOBI, and they were kind enough to answer our questions
What problem does the app address?
Reading is still the foundation of learning and everyday communication. Many intelligent children with reading difficulties fail to acquire sufficient reading fluency to succeed academically and even have problems in everyday life. Research has shown that a lot of psychological issues in children and even a large portion of minor suicides stem in learning difficulties. Moreover, when a child is not learning to read as expected this oftentimes becomes a source of conflict between the parents and the school, which leads to an even more stressful environment for the child.
Our clients are thus parents of children with moderate to severe reading problems between the ages of 6 to 12. The school system requires parents to read with their child, but does not direct them how best to do this.
And here we should not that we’re talking about children who don’t like to read. Reading is painful for them. Even short sessions often end with anger, stubbornness and tears. Their parents are looking for ways to motivate and make reading easier. There is still a stigma attached to the problem of learning to read, which is why parents and schools often wait until problems become intolerable.
In contrast, we’re positioned in the “early aid” segment. Our solution does not require any diagnostics because it supports the learning process as it happens with all children. It therefore closes the gap between the first signs of problems and the conclusion of a typically long lasting diagnostic process.
Learning to read is a tough job. It requires a lot of repetition, training and patience. We believe that parents and educators must work hand in hand to support a child as long as it is necessary to gain this skill of life-long importance. And as any skill you only master it by doing it.
KOBI is focusing on reading connected text, which is a crucial part of the learning to read. Many parents cannot afford to hire a professional tutor and thus they are challenged to become reading tutors themselves. They need evidence-based, easy to use, efficient solutions, that can be adopted to any reading curriculum.
So how does KOBI it work?
KOBI is a mobile app. You install it on your phone or preferably tablet. You can pick a book from our growing library or simple take pictures of a book you have at hand. Then you let your child choose modifications of the text. The main feature of KOBI are the “coloured letters”.
By giving a certain colour to a letter or letter combination the brain receives additional sensory input that helps the child with some specific issues. For example, one of the things kids struggle with are so-called letter reversals. They mix up similar shapes such as b/d/p/q, u/n, e/a. However, with colours the brain can very quickly learn that a b is red, so the problem is solved. Since letter reversals are a developmental issue it will disappear with time, but in the meantime the use of colour will prevent a lot of frustration, and help the child to read more fluently.
KOBI also has tools such as focus frame and word-to-speech, and it tracks the reading practice. All these tools together help the child and keep them motivated, so they continue to improve
What special features does it have compared to the competition?
Overall, the key advantage of KOBI is its mix of functionalities and the fact that it can be used to support any school curriculum. Selective colouring of letters is one of the unique features, and while the interface is in four languages – English, Slovene, Spanish and Dutch – but you can import books in any western language. The interface that’s used by the child is completely icon-based, and can be easily operated by a seven year old.
How is it being used in the real world?
In Slovenia KOBI has already been widely adopted by special education teachers and, of course, parents. Abroad it’s mainly used in a home setting to help with reading practice, required reading materials or simply to adjust any materials that the child would like to read but the print is not suitable. The letters are too small, for example.
What feedback have you had from users?
Users tell us that KOBI is a game changer for children who struggle with letter reversals, as well as lack of motivation for reading. Parents get very emotional when they see that their child can not only suddenly read, but wants to read. Still, the secret of success here is perseverance and grit. Learning to read requires a lot of practice, especially for kids, even with the support of technology.
Who works at the company?
There are four cofounders. Andrej Peršolja, with a background in journalism and who is responsible for content and growth, Marko Fornazarič, our all-round developer, Auke Touwslager, designer and visionary, and Ursula Lavrenčič, a designer who five years ago took a deep dive into the pedagogics of reading.
What's next for KOBI?
We have many goals ahead. We are working on the next big update of the product, putting in everything we have learned. We are fine-tuning the business model and target number one is to get a foothold in English-speaking markets. Our mission is to build a product that will be in the toolkit of every family of a child who struggles with learning to read, and to help them become enthusiastic, independent readers.