Ervin Ukaj

Link to Ervins community profile:

Ervin Ukaj used to work in the banking industry, where his job was to create algorithms to identify people through handwriting. His job involved close collaboration with psychologists and speech therapists in order to classify peoples’ habits and patterns affecting their writing styles. 4.5 years later all that resulted in the creation of totally new products aiming to help kids with learning disabilities.

Dysgraphia, dyslexia and dyscalculia are the well-known issues making learning and teaching difficult in both developed and developing countries. Luckily, there are now solutions making it possible to early diagnose and successfully treat these learning incapabilities, and the most innovative of them, as claimed by Ervin Ukaj, are coming from Oppimi where he is a co-founder and CEO.

It all started with an idea to create an open source dysgraphia-treatment software available to schools and children doing self-training at home, but collaboration with Microsoft changed everything. Microsoft produces the hardware, Oppimi – the software, and the initial purpose of this partnership was to distribute the “package” for free to schools in countries like Africa and India, where education as such is not the top priority on the country-level agenda. At about the same time the manager at Microsoft, who was among the first to support Ervin and team on this journey, pointed out, that the highly developed countries were facing the exact same issues, and that they were worth concentrating on within a separate business solely focused on providing the necessary solutions.

As a result, Oppimi is now running pilots in Italy, Romania, India, US, Finland, Iran and China, and the feedback they receive confirms, that there is a clear need for such products on the global market. The main focus at this point is on dysgraphia, and technology, of course, is key here, but Oppimi strives to maintain a balance between technology adaptation and physical body movements as such (or handwriting as such). Ervin points out, that this is very much in line with the notion that children today “are missing on touching stuff” and they at Oppimi “work hard to bring that back, because it is necessary for everything, even for the relationship between kids”. So Oppimi “is working with the old school, but with technology”. And that is quite remarkable given that more and more schools are gradually eliminating handwriting from their curricula.

The first Oppimi’s product for the global market is focused on dysgraphia and short-term memory, the 2nd – on dyscalculia and dysorthography (when one is good at writing but mismatches the letters), and dyslexia will be dealt with afterwards. There is a straight logic to this order: handwriting is connected to all major learning disabilities (those who are good at writing are also good at reading etc.). Thus, it makes sense to start with “the hardest one” using help and advice from doctors, psychologists, teachers and children themselves, and the solution will be finalized by the end of 2019. It is also worth noting, that the primary causes of these disabilities (e.g. stress etc.) are being addressed too, and the overall purpose of these products is to make children with difficulties feel included and not worse than their classmates.

Gaming is used for the treatment part, while diagnosing employs processes like connecting dots, copying shapes and texts etc. - they involve all the skills used in handwriting. These tests are not linked to any specific language (there is just one language-linked task, which will be translated) and are therefore very “universal” and easy to replicate in different cultures. For the pilots Oppimi intentionally selected very different countries - both in terms of language and culture (only the Slavic group is missing so far) - and the results confirm the high level of adaptability of Oppimi’s products.

During the coming Sprint Ervin is ready to share his experience as an Advisor and also learn from others in our community, which could lead to “creating something together”. While Ervin and his team are clear about what they are going to do with their products, they also acknowledge that education is undergoing serious changes, so “things can develop in unexpected directions” and there is therefore a lot to discuss. One of Ervin’s interests is elimination of the multiple downsides of technology adoption, and he is open to share his opinion on that.

We are very glad to have Ervin onboard and believe that out Sprint teams will benefit from his expert advice and guidance. You may also want to enjoy this interview with Ervin to get to know him better.

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