“We’re trying to fix the way we teach our children to read and write,” says Babar Baig, cofounder of WriterReader. “Traditionally, you learn the ABCs. Once you learn that, you can put those into small words and then [form] sentences. This process typically takes one to three years. We’re trying to deconstruct this: to start by writing rather than reading.” According to Baig, it’s important that we reconsider the ways through which we approach the teaching of reading to young students. A resident of Denmark, he cites that 20 percent of all students in the country leave school struggling to read and write at a rudimentary level; the stats are even worse for the United States, where 21 percent of adults read below a 5th grade level and an additional 14 percent can’t read at all. Despite advancements in education technology over the years, it’s disheartening to find that illiteracy continues to prevail in the world. WriteReader aims to improve literacy through an iPad app that enables students to learn by starting with the traditionally-secondary skill of writing.
“To give the child a headstart, we need to learn to adapt more to our society,” says Baig. “But the thing is we’re a quick-paced society, so it’s good to start young…If a child starts writing using the [WriteReader] methodology, [once they enroll in school,] they’ll be able to read and write at the same pace as a child in first grade.”
WriteReader is a mobile app for the iPhone and iPad designed to give children between the ages of 3 and 10 the tools to learn how to read simply through the act of writing. In essence, the app allows each child to create a book that features all of his or her writing. After creating a front page with a title and the author’s name (obviously, whichever child is using WriteReader), a child can add as many pages as he wants. Each page allows you to add a picture taken with your phone or tablet, as well as up to 60 seconds of audio recording. At the bottom of every page are two text entry points: one for kids and one for adults. The idea is for a child to write something about picture they’ve chosen to include on the page, and for the adult to decipher that writing with corresponding real words. “What is actually happening is that children are trying out their letters and sounds, exploring the process of writing at its very first stages. By seeing their writing alongside the adult’s writing, children can see their successes.” Each book that’s created is then autosaved into WriteReader’s library.
“Just because an app is on the app store designed for children, it doesn’t mean it’s good for children. We wanted to be a more serious alternative to those other apps. We spent a lot of time researching to make sure that children can actually benefit from [WriteReader].”
Because children are given the ability to create their own books, WriteReader enables them to fully engage in the process of learning how to read. In order to come up with their current product, the WriteReader team – aside from having the teaching experience of cofounder Janus Madsen on their side – spent two years researching their precise approach (they even got $20k in research funding to support their efforts). “Research was important for us not only to show that we had a proven and documented product, but [also] so that parents feel comfortable giving it to their children.” According to their research, children learn to read faster when they are given the ability to write, with the conventional writing corrections provided by adults. Additionally, having children write about things connected to their daily lives makes the learning process more engaging.
“We want to enable children to become creators instead of consumers. With [WriteReader], it’s only the fantasy that sets the limit.”
Since launching the app in the App Store last year, over 250,000 books have been created by children on WriteReader, with about 1,400 being added on a daily basis. Last November, the startup took part in the Challenge Cup Berlin Regional Competition and found themselves winning the education category. Since the competition, they’ve been focused on scaling WriteReader – adding languages and spreading the word in other countries, particularly working on breaking into the U.S. market. They’ve also been working on a function that will allow kids to self-publish the books they’ve created on WriteReader, as well as developing web and Android versions of the app. When asked about his thoughts on the Challenge Cup Global Finals, Baig said:
“I think it will be a completely different ballgame in DC – it will be interesting to see. Even in the Berlin Challenge Cup, the competition was tough…but we’re looking forward to [Global Finals]. It will be great to network with others in the industry and learn more from the other ed tech startups.”
The Challenge Cup is produced by 1776 in partnership with Tech Cocktail and iStrategyLabs.