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October 18 2021 4:01 PM ˚

Local business builds bridge between region’s children, their mother tongue

Rama Kayali
(Photo: Handout from Little Thinking Minds)
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AMMAN – A shortage in Arabic-language content online drove entrepreneur Rama Kayyali and her partner Lamia Tabbaa to create “Little Thinking Minds (LTM)”, a platform that has been offering original and engaging language-learning resources since 2004. اضافة اعلان

LTM, which was later joined by the third partner Salwa Katkhuda, has been selected as one of the ‘Elite 200’ companies for the 2021 GSVCup Competition.

In an interview with Jordan News, Kayyali, the co-founder and CEO expressed how honored she felt being nominated for the award,  “recognizes the top ‘Pre-K to Gray’ educational technology (ed-tech) startups across the globe with a mission to ensure that children have access to a better future through education.”

Kayyali pointed out the importance of taking children into account in entrepreneurial projects. “The Middle East is among the youngest regions in the world, with the highest population growth rates globally,” she said. 

In Jordan, children up to 14 years old make up over a third (34.4 percent) of the population, according to the Department of Statistics 2020 report.

The entrepreneur said that according to Arab Thought Foundation, “an Arab child reads one book a year due to lack of access to  leveled books and other factors such as financial limitations, geography, and borders.”

Believing that “once you master your mother tongue, you can master everything else,” the entrepreneur expressed concern over negligence of the Arabic language. “We grew extremely frustrated that there was so much out there in terms of English-language (learning) platforms but nothing in Arabic,” she said.

As mothers themselves, the entrepreneurs “found (their) passion in providing educational solutions to other mothers who felt (their) pain.”

From books and CDs to mobile apps, LTM ventures to boost children’s Arabic literacy both at home and in school.

Kayyali noted that some 450 schools in 18 countries are making use of LTM’s first platform, “I Read Arabic”, which grants users access to more than 700 Arabic books from over 20 publishers.

She added that refugees and children from low-income families are also among the platform’s 180,000 beneficiaries.

As LTM grows closer to marking its 20-year anniversary, Kayyali said the work she and her partners have done has finally started to pay off.

“Third party impact evaluations have shown that there was a 30 percent literacy gain between treatment and control groups, especially in students utilizing our platforms in refugee camps and public schools,” Kayyali said.

The entrepreneurial startup has won several awards. These include the All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development funded by USAID, World Vision and Australian Aid, the Shoman Innovation Award, the Queen Rania Award for Education Entrepreneurship, and Shera’a Award.

As for Kayyali, she is an Eisenhower Fellow, an Endeavor Entrepreneur, and a recipient of the Arab Women's Award. She earned her MA in Film and Media Production from the American University in Washington, D.C., and her BA from the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Although “the pandemic was an eye-opener to the power of virtual learning… that allowed a whole generation to resume their education under unprecedented conditions,” the pioneer noted that “even prior to COVID-19, education technology has been witnessing high growth and adoption by schools and parents.”

As COVID-19 continues to soften resistance to digital learning methods, Kayyali further believes that adoption of “efficient and effective online learning combined with face-to-face classroom interaction is the way of the future.”

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