Dorka Horvath: Raising a New Generation of Readers in the 21st Century
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Dorka Horvath, the CEO and co-founder of BOOKR Kids, working on advancing SDG 4: Quality Education in her hometown of Budapest, Hungary. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome to the blog, Dorka! What challenge is BOOKR Kids addressing?
Dorka: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Kids read less than ever before. Therefore, they have more problems with text interpretation and reading comprehension. For Generation Alpha, the traditional books are not engaging enough, while age-appropriate, tested, and safe digital content is difficult to access. However, storytelling must be a crucial part of early childhood education and beyond. It supports incidental knowledge, automatic vocabulary, and grammar acquisition. Stories can also help develop 21st-century skills - introduce new cultures, raise awareness and develop creativity, critical thinking, and social-emotional skills. This is why we created a new generation of storytelling.
Spiffy: Raising readers is important work and I’m excited to know more about how you go about it. What motivated you to do it?
Dorka: Growing up with publisher parents, being a crazy bookworm, and a young mother, I wanted the love of reading to inspire my son, just like other children. But the world is changing, and so are the content consumption habits. So, we combined multimedia elements with print stories and created a new type of reading experience. I believe that books on a tablet and other interactive content are complementary, not substitutes for traditional paper-based books! The point is for them to immerse themselves in a story and enjoy the world of books. A person who loves to read is “platform indifferent”; they do not choose between paper and screens; all they care about is reading, reading, and more reading.
Spiffy: True that! Can you elaborate on how you and BOOKR Kids are working towards a more equitable world?
Dorka: Achieving equity in education is closely tied to personalized learning. It requires understanding each student’s individual needs and designing educational experiences that will help all students achieve success. This is an area that we considered very important from the early days of BOOKR Kids and it has been one of the focuses we kept in mind while developing our products. For example, with BOOKR, educators are able to monitor performance individually, track the reading activity and task results of their students, and understand better who might struggle and need a little extra attention or, on the contrary, progresses faster and needs more complex materials.
Spiffy: That’s awesome! Tell me about a recent BOOKR milestone and the impact that it makes.
Dorka: Our reading program was recognized for being the first official digital textbooks used throughout Hungary right now; we are also running a pilot in a Syrian refugee camp in partnership with Kayany Foundation. And we made history when we became the first startup authorized to digitally animate Oxford University Press' graded readers!
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Dorka: In the beginning, we wanted to offer hardware to the software as well. We ordered 2000 kid-safe tablets from China; when they arrived, we realized they were not only not kid-friendly, but they did not function well either. We invested a lot in manufacturing and lost almost our entire investment. You should never do everything at once. If you are developing software, do not start a hardware business. But as a former athlete, I learned that a match ends only when the referee blows the whistle. That’s why I’m unable to give up. I believe so much in our mission and in the company we are building, I would not believe anyone who tells me we will not succeed.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Dorka: My mentor, Peter Balogh, founder of the most successful Hungarian startup NNG told me once a good analogy about knowledge. If you have two kegs of beer and share it with a friend, you’ll have less beer to drink. But knowledge works the opposite way. Somehow, the more people you share it with, the more you have left for yourself. When you explain it, you get to understand it better. When it gets challenged, your understanding gets deeper. When you apply it specifically to a topic, it helps you understand it more widely. Some people are afraid to share their knowledge, I am the opposite. You become part of a network which helps your future success in so many ways.
Spiffy: That’s beautifully put and you’re so right! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before we finish this interview?
Dorka: In my PhD research I examine the role of interactive books as a new hybrid medium in education. I am in such a lucky position to put my theoretical work into practice as we are continually developing and shaping the BOOKR methodology based on the latest research.
Spiffy: I wish you all the best, Dorka. Thanks for speaking with me today—it’s been an honor!
Dorka Horvath is the CEO and Founder of BOOKR Kids, the award-winning kids reading app. She wrote her doctoral thesis describing the relationship between e-learning and new media at CUB. She is a happy mom of a two year-old baby boy. (Nominated by Svenia Busson from the European Edtech Alliance. First published on the Ladderworks website on February 18, 2022)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.