Six teachers from Africa are set to compete for $1 million in the Varkey GEMS Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. These teachers have been selected from all stages of the learning spectrum; from primary learning tutors to lecturers in tertiary institutions.

The six African teachers come from some of the poorest countries in Africa where education is hardly accessible, but the prize, which is widely referred to as the “Nobel Prize for Teaching”, is open to teachers in every school in every country of the world. Applicants are judged on how they open up their pupil’s minds, how much they contribute to the community, and how much they encourage others to become teachers.

The tutors

Jacque Kahura, teaching at Bofa Primary school in Kilifi, Kenya, is one of the six teachers shortlisted from Africa. She is also one of 10 teachers from East Africa to study for a Master’s in Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, University of London. She  also founded the LIBA (Lifting the Barriers) organization, working towards creating the right environments for children to learn in, thereby removing the obstacles to aspiration and opportunity, particularly amongst disadvantaged children.

She has raised $80,000 to improve teaching and learning in two schools so far. Her work was recognized was invited to sit on the Kilifi County Education. In Kenya, she resolved to move away from the ’40-minute lecture’ model and instead incorporated a wide variety of stories and interludes to keep things fresh in the classroom. LIBA has also worked with Kenyan and international volunteers to enable Kenyan children to learn more about other cultures and understand the world they are part of.  She has also pioneered partnerships with local universities to give teacher trainees much-needed experience.

Andrews Nchessie, teaching  at Kasungu Demonstration School & Kasungu Teacher Training College in Kasungu, Malawiis on the shortlist. He began as a primary school teacher in 1994 and since then has contributed significantly to curriculum development in Malawi, along with training the nation’s primary school teachers. He has also contributed to science educational television programmes, broadcast to over 10 million viewers. He also pioneers alternative ways that students can see the results of their learning – for example, in establishing a weather station to learn about meteorology. Andrews has also developed his pupils’ awareness of global issues through the environmental education including tree-planting projects. It also includes community development activities such as clearing the footpaths to school, and developing democratic awareness.

Souad Belcaid teaching at the American School of Tangier in Tangier, Morocco is on the list. Souad previously taught in places including, Massachusetts, Kansas City, Egypt and Morocco. In 2007, she received the Teacher of the Year Award. In her teaching, she encourages problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. She has attended MAIS math workshops in Washington D.C. and Madrid to keep abreast of the latest innovations in method. These also helped her to grasp mathematics in a more sophisticated way, understanding the meanings of advanced mathematical concepts rather than just the methods to achieve the correct solution. Together with use of online resources, she enables her students to achieve outstanding results.

She has also taken creative steps to eradicate bullying in her school, and her entire teaching strategy exists to break down barriers and encourage understanding of other cultures and personalities.

Malima Chisumo teaching at Nsumba Secondary School in Mwanza Tanzania is also on the list. Malima a dedicated Science and Mathematics teacher and is also a leader of the Mathematical Association of Tanzania. When he was a child, many students opted not to study mathematics or science because of the poor quality of the teaching available – a situation that Malima has made it his mission to turn around. Helping his fellow students convinced him that he too could be a great teacher. He has introduced a special Best Student award fund and a regional mathematics contest. He also holds clubs to encourage girls to study mathematics and sciences, and has set up a company to offer educational consultation to parents.

Ronald Ddungu teaching at Gayaza High School in Kampala, Uganda is on the shortlist.  Ronald joined Gayaza High School in 1996, a school mainly attended by affluent families, it is Ronald’s hope that he can influence his pupils to prepare Uganda for the future. He founded a program in which 100 senior students visit primary schools in the area and teach mathematics for an hour every week. This exposes the students to challenges within the community and broadens their horizons. The students have also become involved in an agricultural project to provide meals to primary school children and a scheme for students to study local enterprises and market them using online tools.

Making Africa proud

The teachers are among the top 50 shortlisted from over 5,000 nominations and 1,300 final applications from 127 countries from around the world, including the US, UK, Italy, Kenya, Uganda, India, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina Mexico and Jordan.

“The thousands of applications we received from all around the world is testimony to the achievements of teachers and the enormous impact they have on all of our lives. We introduced the prize this year in order to return teachers to their rightful position as the one of the most respected professions in society,” said Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey GEMS Foundation.

He noted that the prize was not just about money, but also about unearthing thousands of stories of inspiration as the many applications prove.

“Of course, more will be needed than the Global Teacher Prize to raise the status of profession worldwide.  But my hope is that it’s the start of a million conversations about the role of teachers – from families around the dinner table and teenagers on social media to education ministries around the world,” Varkey added.

Also commenting on the prize, Former US President Bill Clinton, Honorary Chairman of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, said “attracting the best people to teaching, developing and supporting their skills, and holding our teachers in high regard — all are critically important to achieve excellence, both in teaching and learning.”

Africa accounts for 43 percent of the world’s out of school children, but the future looks bright for the continent, with initiatives like this encouraging teachers to do more in improving their skills and employing more effective ways of imparting knowledge across the continent.

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