Ahmed El-Kadars and Mohammed Ghalayini, two Canadian-Muslim technology entrepreneurs, are looking to make their way into the world of educational applications for children. Their experiences and accomplishments are as unique as the stories they are presenting. Ghalayini is a Palestinian-Jordanian with a degree in mechanical engineering and a M.B.A. from Utah. Ghalayini became an IT technology strategist and gained ten years of experience working for a consulting company called Deloitte in the US and Canada.
El-Kadars is an Egyptian-Canadian entrepreneur with a B.A. in finance from Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware and a M.B.A from Rider University in New Jersey. El-Kadars began to work within the sports industry following graduation as a sports management consultant for about 10 years.
After ditching their corporate jobs, the entrepreneurs worked for six months to develop a storybook application called The Three Elephants, produced in the Arabic language by their start-up company, Kids Love Arabic. The team, which includes accomplished Palestinian-Jordanian author Suzanne Ghawi and Mexican-American artist Sam Hutchinson, is hoping to make it big in the app world. Both El-Kadars and Ghalayini sat down to speak to ILLUME.
How did you decide to venture into the world of children's education?
El-Kadars: It all started when I was surfing the web trying to find an Arabic writing tool that would help strengthen my friend's Arabic. I was shocked when the Internet failed to give me any kind of resource. With a bit more extensive researching, Mohammed and I found that there is very little educational Arabic content online. We began to realize that the huge Arab population in Canada and the US could really benefit from more easily accessible educational Arabic material and if we found a way to bring this to the digital world it could be accessible to anyone wanting to learn Arabic, not just those living in the West.
Ghalayini: A year ago we looked around the digital space and realized there is a lack of Arabic resources focused on educating children. My nieces for one are easily drawn to apps but it seemed that quality educational Arabic apps were scarce. The reason is that there's a lapse between the English and Arabic markets, and the latter is lagging behind. Nowadays, children are growing up with quality English apps on their smartphones and other digital devices. They have an appreciation for good animation, graphics, color etc. In other words, developers can no longer throw together "just anything" and hope to get it past these children. We know that in order to capture these critics' attention and teach them Arabic, we'd have to come up with a quality application.
Other people have developed websites, so why an app?
El-Kadars: Technology in general has a global presence. Like websites, digital applications are now accessible through handheld devices. But what differentiates between an educational website and an educational application are the interactive elements.
Ghalayini: One of the main reasons why we decided to create an application as opposed to a website was because apps are generally easier for children to navigate through and they resemble paper books more. You may be interested to know that Kids Love Arabic is working on expanding its content to include interactive games-that are of course educational. We have a vision to use the baby elephant character as a recurring protagonist in all of our future stories and in the games as well. We hope that this will give Kids Love Arabic a familiar face within a child's own world.
Why did you choose to use children's stories as a means to teach Arabic?
El-Kadars: Mohammed and I really wanted to find the best way to engage our target demographic, children six years old and under, with the content or the Arabic language itself. After some research in this area we found that the best way to engage this age group is through storybooks. Since we're living in the digital age and children are growing up with technological devices in their hands, we figured a storybook application would be the best way to teach them Arabic. But to be honest, it's not just about teaching them the language; it's also about building a foundation that can support future productions. We're trying to close that gap between the English and Arabic educational markets mentioned before. We want children to believe that Arabic applications are just as appealing as English ones. In other words, we truly want kids to love Arabic.
Ghalayini: That's when we contacted Suzanne Ghawi. Initially, we wanted to digitize one of her many existing books. But as we discussed the vision of Kids Love Arabic she got really excited and told us she would write a brand new storybook just for the application. We considered ourselves very lucky, considering the fact that Suzanne Ghawi is a well-known and established children's author in the Arabic-speaking community.
Tell us about your future plans.
Ghalayini: The Three Elephants is the beginning to what we hope will someday turn into an entire library of storybook applications focused on teaching children Arabic. As we mentioned before we would like to look into creating interactive games that will keep the children interested and having fun. We also want to start conducting more research on the family unit; more specifically the relationship parents have with their children and how that can affect a child's education. We strongly believe that parents play a big role in teaching their kids how to read and become effective readers. So hopefully, for the future, we see Kids Love Arabic being a resource that people trust to educate their kids, and facilitate more interactions between the parents and children as they learn to read together.
How do you ensure that you will succeed?
El-Kadars: One word: feedback. We really need people to tell us what they think of the application and of Kids Love Arabic in general. That's how we'll know how good or bad we're doing, what can be improved, and how to tailor to our readers' needs.
What do you do in your free time?
El-Kadars: For us, we like a nice balance between work and fun. We start our day very early, and try to maintain a balance between working hard and taking care of ourselves. We also love food, so we a lot; I actually make great baked Egyptian rice and a mean roast dinner. Nevertheless, we always try to eat healthy.
Ghalayini: I like to keep my mind off work, so I read novels and books that are unrelated to work. Running really does give me a fresh perspective. I also enjoy snacking on foul (fava bean dip) and once I tried cooking mansaf (a Jordanian dish made with yogurt and meat) for my friends and would like to do it again soon.
The Three Elephants storybook app is available on iPhone, iPad and iPad HD. It can be purchased from the Apple App Store.