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October 24 2021 7:01 AM ˚

Martha’s Education offers e-learning platform to deaf children in Jordan

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Ehab Kahwati photographed in this undated photo. (Photos: Thekra Aladwan/JNews)
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AMMAN — His passion for technology, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and social innovation led Ehab Kahwati, an avid contributor to the social empowerment of youth in Jordan, to found Martha’s Education. اضافة اعلان

The platform, named after Martha’s Vineyard in the United States, uses a flashcard system to teach sign language to children aged 9 to 12.

According to Kahwati, Martha's Vineyard, an island located south of Cape Cod, was home to one of the largest deaf communities in the United States.

There, deafness was not considered a disability, and sign language was commonly used among its islanders as a means of communication. 

"I started my journey through participating in a local program to find solutions to the educational difficulties facing refugees and host communities. My team and I focused on the challenges that face people with disabilities, but did not specify which type,” said Kahwati.

"One day, I was at the bus station asking about a bus that would take me to the Sweileh area. A man in his fifties answered me, pointing to the bus I was looking for. I realized that he was a deaf person."

Kahwati said he tried to communicate with the man through his phone, but they both faced difficulties. The man kept typing the word “neighbor”. Minutes later, when the bus arrived, they both got on the same bus.

"After many attempts to communicate through writing, I was surprised to learn that this person has been my neighbor for three years,” he said. 

This story motivated Kahwati to center his solutions on deafness in Jordan

Kahwati said he reviewed myriad studies on deafness and discovered that more than “80 percent of deaf people … cannot read or write” in Jordan. 

"Most of them drop out of the sixth grade and resort to professional work because of their inability to read and write,” he said. 

After cooperating with researchers, experts, and specialists in this field, Kahwati and his team concluded that the root of this problem is a lack of awareness among parents about the importance of teaching deaf children sign language from a young age.

"Martha Education’s main objective is to eradicate illiteracy among the deaf community, especially children. It contains nine levels," Kahwati told Jordan News. "Sign language is the mother tongue for children with hearing disabilities, so we have made educational cards linked to a free mobile application to teach children and their caregivers the standardized Jordanian sign language.”

Kahwati added that teaching children sign language helps speed up their writing and reading learning process and improves their ability to interact with others. 

"The problem is that 80 percent of the parents of deaf children do not suffer from any disabilities of hearing,” he said. “Therefore, parents often resort to cochlear implants or communicating with the child in their language and inventing a new sign language.”

In cooperation with Qudrat Association for Community Development, Abu Alanda Association for Social Development, Deaf and Mute Charity Association, and the Jordanian Society for Hearing and Speech, Kahwati and his team have worked to spread awareness to parents about the importance of teaching deaf children sign language. 

"There are some difficulties that face parents if they want to teach their children sign language. For example, the number of schools that teach sign language is small, only 7 to ten schools,” he said.

According to Kahwati, “There are private centers for teaching sign language, but they are expensive, their courses are limited, they are far in distance, and require parents to give up their work because of the time commitment."

Martha's Education offers a free, integrated solution that starts from home, does not need time commitment, and is interactive. Members of the Martha Education team have invented 14 cartoon characters to engage children, in addition to interactive educational videos of a deaf child communicating in sign language to assist users. 

“The child learns words used inside and outside the household, how to express his feelings and things he needs, body parts, how to describe people, Arabic and English letters, colors, and numbers,” said Kahwati.

"So far, we have launched six levels out of nine. Each one includes 100 flashcards to teach words, except for the third level, which consists of 183 flashcards because it teaches English and Arabic words, numbers, and colors.”

Kahwati said their partners who support the project cover all costs to make sure the application is free and reaches the highest possible number of people. 

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