This blog is part of a series of blogs telling the stories of COVID-19 learning heroes, whose stories were celebrated during International Education Day.
Right after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Ethiopia in March 2020, the government ordered the closure of all schools. Students were forced to stay home. Students from public and government schools had to rely on radio and TV programmes produced and aired by the Educational Mass Media Agency.
For deaf children, this was particularly hard because they were unable to get the support they usually have in the classroom, such as the presence of a special needs teacher who translates the contents into sign language.
Mekdes Worku works with the Rehabilitation Services for the Deaf Association (RSDA), an implementing partner of Light for the World, in Ethiopia. She is a fieldworker who has been working with families with deaf children for years. As a deaf woman herself, she quickly realized that many learners were missing out during the COVID-19 restrictions. She started exploring options of how to start a tutorial programme for deaf children. With her colleagues at RSDA, she brought the matter to headmasters and special need needs teachers at elementary schools. When the respective school administration agreed to having a tutorial programme at their school, Mekdes collaborated with the local special needs teacher who is also responsible for managing the inclusive education resource centre of the school to offer a weekly tutorial programme there.
“The tutorial programme is open to parents and siblings of deaf children too, which makes it fun for the children and their families because they are learning and refreshing their skills of sign language together,” said Mekdes.
At some schools it was not possible to provide the tutorial programme, but Mekdes did not give up. She spoke to the parents of children whom she supported before the pandemic and they offered to host tutorial sessions at their homes.
“It was tough for me to see my boy sitting at home depressed and unhappy. He even became very aggressive and moody which made the situation at home very tough. The fact that I could not help my son made me very depressed as well. When I heard about this tutorial session I was thrilled,” said Worke Mohamed, the mother of Muktar Husein, a fourth-grader.
Currently, Mekdes runs tutorial sessions in a primary and first cycle school, at the houses of willing parents and with individual children at their home who are not able to attend the collective tutorial programmes.
Through these programmes she has been instrumental in ensuring that 20 deaf children can continue learning in sign language for more than six months.
Ibrahim, a fourth-grader, said, “I love coming here. I love being with friends. After the session, we play and do things together.”
“My main goal is to make sure they practice sign language,” said Mekdes. “At the beginning of our tutorial sessions we realized that some had already forgotten some signs. Then we decided to increase emphasis on their sign language skills so that they will not feel lost when the schooling resumes”.
Mekdes also explained that having the tutorial sessions at school was the better option. “When I go to the children’s houses, the session is more dominated by sign language skills. Our sessions at the school are more balanced with sign language practice and the revision of subjects because I have the support of the special needs teacher. I am trying my best to balance the revision of subjects and the practice of sign language.”