Tsadkan: the pre-school teacher who makes toys for children
Tigray region, Ethiopia
In the ‘O’ class at Mequat Primary School, six-year-old children are busy writing numbers and letters on their tiny lap boards. Their teacher Tsadkan Demissie, closely tracks their skills and encourages each student to read what they wrote standing in front of their peers.
“We are about to end class for the year and I am assessing their skills,” says Tsadkan “This is very important for the little ones. When they join grade 1 next year, they will be confident.”
Tsadkan is very passionate about teaching children, despite a childhood marred by difficulties. Her mother passed away when she was only five and she doesn’t know who her father is. With support from close relatives, she continued her education to become a pre-school teacher, a ray of hope for young children as they begin their education journey.
When Tsadkan started her first day of work at Mequat Primary School, she wasn’t sure what to expect. The ‘O’ class was untidy, dark and nowhere near being a child-friendly space. “The children wanted to be going home early because they got easily bored,” she says. “That’s when I knew that things needed to change.”
She then started working on something which other teachers were curious about. Every day after class- and even on weekends- Tsadkan was busy drawing on the walls, moulding wet paper and mud, cutting hardboards and making paper flowers. Slowly, her classroom became adorned with colourful paintings of animals, plants, alphabets, and even human body parts. She also made toys by shaping mud into fruits and pets.
“Children love to learn while playing. That’s why I make things that they can see, touch and play with,” she says.
Her work began to get attention and word spread across the villages about the beautiful classroom. Parents were also encouraged to see how ‘O’ class teaching looked like and they kept sending their children to school every day. This helped to improve class attendance levels and inspired parents from far away villages to send their children to Mequat Primary School.
Tsadkan’s commitment also got recognition by the woreda (district) education bureau and she got an award for her exemplary work. “She always makes things better. And her everyday commitment is remarkable,” says Tsehaye Hagos, the school director.
Tsadkan’s enthusiasm to teach young children goes beyond painting on walls and cutting hardboards. She took a role in the classroom and outdoor plays: singing, dancing and running with the children. The games and toys bring the children’s ideas to life, builds relationships and broadens their world.
Interestingly, she helps every child dream a future with a simple but creative approach. Every year before the first quarter ends, she asks her students what they would like to become when they grow up. Then the children’s names and dreams are written on a notecard which is posted on the wall for the rest of the year. The young minds feel proud to see their dreams in class every day.
Pre-primary education is the foundation of a child’s journey to success. Yet, more than 175 million in the world miss this opportunity, according to UNICEF estimates.
Although Ethiopia had one of the lowest pre-primary education enrolment levels in the world – just less than 2 per cent in 2000- it has managed to increase this rate to almost 45 per cent in two decades.
A single year of pre-primary education, known as ‘O’ class, such as the one Tsadkan teaches, has been introduced in primary schools targeting six-year-old children in rural areas where there are no kindergartens or any other form of pre-school learning. UNICEF, with funds from the Roche Foundation, supports the Government in developing ‘O’ class curriculum and training ‘O’ class teachers and provides early childhood education kits to schools like Mequat.
Unlike in the past when ‘O’ class teachers were recruited on a short-term basis, the Government is now creating permanent job opportunities for these teachers by upgrading their education through the summer support programme. Tsadkan is also attending this programme and she will graduate with a diploma next year.
Tsadkan’s first students are now in grade eight, ready to take on the national exam. This is a proud moment for this dedicated teacher who played a role in laying the foundations for their life-long success.
“She is a great teacher. I still remember the birds she made with paper to teach us about numbers. I still love maths and I want to be a maths teacher,” says 12-year-old Milkawit Getnet who was once a student of the witty Tsadkan.