Meet The Finalists For $1M Teacher Prize In Uae

Former US vice-president Al Gore and former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, will be present during the two-day even.

Teachers spend most of their lives dedicating their time, energy and influence to a classroom full of students, repeatedly year after year, often with low salaries. Now, one teacher, who has helped students from some of the most financially-challenging and volatile backgrounds, is going to be rewarded with a whopping $1 million as part of the Global Teacher Prize by the Varkey Foundation.

The prize is part of the Global Education and Skills Forum, which took off today and includes 10 teacher finalists who have been selected from around the globe, including Turkey, the US and UK, Belgium and the Philippines, among others.

World leaders, such as former US vice-president Al Gore and former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, will be present during the two-day event. Khaleej Times spoke to the 10 finalists of the prize and asked them what they would do with the $1million prize. The prize ceremony takes place on Sunday at the Atlantis, The Palm.

Name: Nurten Akkus

School: Ayvacik Pre-School

Country: Turkey

In a Turkish county suffering from poor socioeconomic and educational conditions, Nurten founded its first kindergarten. Before this, children there had never gone to school and were very poorly socialised. The conditions were tough but she stuck to her philosophy “nothing is impossible”.

“I want to help underprivileged children with the prize, if I win it, and hopefully I do because there are a lot of children who need help,” Akkus said.

She worked round the clock to prepare the school for her students. She found materials, created a play park and areas for sport, hobbies and recreation.

Her students went from hardly being able to introduce themselves to strangers to becoming literate and numerate. Their rate of knowledge and skill acquisition increased from 20 per cent to 90 per cent. Their behaviour disorders also were decreased.

She was chosen as “Teacher of the Year in Turkey” by public vote in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, she was chosen for “Turkey’s 30 Women Leaving a Mark on the Future”.

Name: Marjorie Brown

School: Roedean School

Country: South Africa

Marjorie is a former human rights activist, teaching history to girls in South Africa and encouraging critical thinking and global citizenship. Her students have gone onto represent South Africa at youth forums, the Paris Climate Talks, and various Ivy League universities. She started and still leads the Kids Lit in SA programme, devoted to improving children’s literacy in what is still a very unequal society.

“The prize money, for me, would be used to broaden the projects we are already involved in. For me, there is early childhood education that needs improvement. I sit on a board of literacy education and that’s aside my job as a history teacher.

Teachers are also very supportive of each other’s projects,” she said.

Brown popularised the Kids’ Lit Quiz in South Africa. Marjorie has hosted the world finals twice, raising funds through publishers, book dealers, and newspaper corporations. She works with 100 schools in South Africa on the quiz and the result has been palpable.

Name: Luis Miguel Bermudez Gutierrez

School: Colegio Gerardo Paredes IED

Country: Colombia

In 2010, Luis went to teach at the Gerardo Paredes School. The school is in one of the poorest areas of Bogota, rife with gun violence, poverty and sexual abuse.

The neighbourhood and family environment there presented a series of problems related to early pregnancy, sexual and gender-based violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. He was struck from the beginning by the large number of teenage pregnancies and the constant bullying of students who did not fit the culturally accepted models of masculinity and femininity.

Faced with this scenario, he decided to dedicate himself to solving this problem. He met the challenge on three levels: Education for sexuality, the exercise of sexual and reproductive human rights in adolescents and young people; and the curriculum itself.

In 2014, he began to change the school curriculum. He integrated the teaching of sexual citizenship and a new approach to diversity. For his work, Luis was recognised as Best Teacher of Colombia in 2017.

Name: Jesus Insilada

School: Alcarde Gustilo Memorial National High School

Country: The Philippines

Jesus is a proud member of the indigenous people’s Panay Bukidnon community.

From a poor farming family, he is the first family member to achieve professional qualifications, and he’s now the teacher in a school in a community where over 90 per cent of students belong to Indigenous People’s groups. Jesus’s approach to teaching is known as culture-based education (CBE), which he models in his school.

“If I win, we look forward to providing them with facilities and involve them in many activities, so that the students would really enjoy their experience in school,” he said.

“We are planning to bring back activities to the wider community and to introduce our culture to the rest of the world. We could share our knowledge with other schools. We would like to have presentations of our culture and we could make a movie of the life and struggle of the indigenous community. We have a lot of plans in mind, which also includes putting up a museum.

Name: Glenn Lee

School: Waialua High & Intermediate School

Country: United States

An electrical engineer 24 years ago, Glenn Lee embarked on a career change to fulfil a desire to become a STEM teacher who could offer students real-world applications of what they were learning. Lee’s pioneering efforts in building a robotics movement that ignited a passion for STEM throughout the state is a testament to his remarkable successes and selfless dedication to students, educators and the Hawaii STEM community.

“If I am the recipient of the prize, I will definitely use the funding to provide more opportunities for the youth. We still have more kids who are interested in robotics but don’t have the resources. I’d like to supply scholarships to more students. I won’t just help them when they’re in school but also after they graduate.,” Lee said.

Committed to rigor and relevance, Lee was determined to learn everything he could about robotics. He fostered partnerships, wrote grants, personally bringing in $5 million, and in 1999 helped launch the state’s first robotics programme.

Name: Diego Mahfouz Faria Lima

School: Escola Municipal Darcy Ribeiro

Country: Brazil

When Diego arrived to lead his school, it was notorious for being the most violent and drug-ridden in an area with the highest dropout rates. Parents were afraid to enrol their children there and staff turnover was high.

“If I win the prize, I will open an association that will help teenagers who live in vulnerable areas and are too involved in gang and drug activities,” Lima said.

Teachers were discouraged and tended to punish rather than reward their students.

He has transformed the school by involving students, parents, teachers, school staff and the community. Starting with how students and their families see the school, Diego sought help to completely refurbish it, despite limited finances. He persuaded local businesses and nearby schools to donate materials. Parents, staff and students worked together to paint and maintain the buildings. The change was made public in the first days of the term when all school employees greeted new students with welcome posters and coffee.

Diego has implemented many projects to improve the school.

Name: Koen Timmers

School: CVO De Verdieping

Country: Belgium

After an emotional 2015 phone call with an outreach worker in the Kakuma refugee camp in Africa, Koen Timmers decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign. The campaign allowed him to ship his own laptop, 20 more devices, solar panels and internet infrastructure to Kakuma.

“I’ve been doing a project with refugees and offering this free education. Around 175 educators from 45 countries are involved and we’re all offering them free education using Skype. Schools have nothing there – no power supply, no computers and I would use the money to help every school in the camp. We developed a solar suitcase, which offers sustainable energy to schools, so everyone can use these suitcases. The cost of each is 300 dollars,” Timmers said.

The teaching resources at Kakuma are now used by 100 global educators and Koen himself, to offer free education to African refugees via Skype. More than 20,000 global students from about 40 countries are involved in Project Kakuma and are having inspiring Skype calls with African refugees every day.

Name: Eddie Woo

School: Cherrybrook Technology High School

Country: Australia

Eddie is an enthusiastic maths teacher and school head. He is at the forefront of school-based integrated STEM education, having identified that students often experience high school subjects as existing in separate silos with little practical application.

“My biggest thing is scratching the surface with what technology can do. Teaching in remote areas, I’ve learned that technology is available in the most remote areas. If I were able to receive the prize, I would help enhance the mathematics learning in these areas,” Woo said.

His programme MathsPASS (Peer-Assisted Study Sessions) see Year 11 students mentoring struggling Year 7 students to help them to rebuild confidence, develop understanding and improve skill in mathematics. The programme has produced measurable improvements in the Year 7s’ numeracy, and it has also encouraged their mentors to pursue careers in education.

In 2012, he began to film his classroom lessons for a sick student, and put them online through YouTube on his “WooTube” channel.

Name: Andria Zafirakou

School: Alperton Community School

Country: United Kingdom

Andria teaches at Alperton Community School, a secondary school academy in the inner city borough of Brent. It’s no easy task. Brent is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country and 130 languages are spoken in its schools. Its pupils come from some of the poorest families in Britain, many sharing one house with five other families, many exposed to gang violence. Children arrive at the school with limited skills and already feel isolated from staff and one another, making engaging with them all the more vital, but all the more difficult.

“Art is something I would like to do with the school community and I want to make sure they have more experiences. So, the prize money would have to do something with art and possibly open a gallery,” she said.

The odds were stacked against her succeeding, but Andria has defied them. Working as an art and textiles teacher and as a member of the senior leadership team tasked with earning the trust of her pupils and their families to understand the complex lives they’ve come from, she redesigned the curriculum across all subjects from scratch.

Name: Barbara Anna Zielonka

School: Nannestad High School

Country: Norway

Barbara is a teacher of English in both vocational and academic classes in a high school with a multicultural student population. She meets all kinds of students, from those who are highly motivated, to those who struggle with English and would like to drop out of high school as soon as possible. In her teaching career, she has developed strategies and techniques that help low-achieving students succeed.

“I’m very fortunate that I work in a school where students already have access to digital media. But not all teachers have access to technology, so I want to help teachers and students in Africa to have access to digital media, as this is very important,” she said.

Her biggest interest is the use of innovative technologies, especially digitally based technology and methods or aids in teaching and learning. Each of her students is equipped with a personal computer. The students are fluent in video editing, content curation, podcasting, mind mapping, collaboration, and screen casting, and proficient in web searching and use of digital platforms for learning.


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