Last night, we were excited to be there as the top educators in the world were recognized and the $1 million Global Teacher Prize was awarded at the annual Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.
One of the most high-profile awards for teaching excellence in the world, the Global Teacher Prize is handed out each year by the Varkey Foundation under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and was set up to celebrate the hard work and important contributions of teachers all over the world.
In a video message aired during the ceremony, Prince Harry congratulated the 10 finalists and talked about the importance of teachers as mentors and role models for students, saying that “in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, the very best teachers go beyond the pages of textbooks to teach young people about determination, aspiration, resilience and compassion. We will all face setbacks and challenges in our lives and our teachers play a vital role in preparing us for these ups and downs”.
At Teach Away and Skooli, we see first hand, every day, how a great teacher can transform the lives of their students, so it was a joy to hear these teachers’ stories and learn more about the lives they impact. Each of the finalists’ stories, while unique, had the same theme - that teachers have the power not only to educate, but to change the trajectory of a life.
The 10 finalists - Salima Begum (Pakistan), David Calle (Spain), Raymond Chambers (UK), Wemerson da Silva Nogueira (Brazil), Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahromi (Germany), Tracy-Ann Hall (Jamaica), Ken Silburn (Australia), Maggie MacDonnell (Canada), Michael Wamaya (Kenya) and Boya Yang (China) - narrowed down from a nomination list of 20,000 teachers, all share the same goal: to inspire and to educate their students and the communities around them.
We were thrilled to see a fellow Canadian, Maggie MacDonnell, snag the $1 million prize. While Bear Grylls parachuted down to bring the trophy into the ceremony hall, the winner was announced via a special video message from French astronaut Thomas Pesque at the International Space Station.
Maggie has been teaching for the past six years in Salluit, a remote Inuit community in the far north of Quebec that’s accessible only by air. Drug and alcohol abuse rates are high in the region and in 2015 alone, there were six suicides in the village, all young males aged from 18 to 25.
So far, Maggie has helped to support several suicidal students, built a life-skills program for girls, secured funding for a fitness centre and has established a community kitchen, running club and second-hand store in the community.
Maggie was congratulated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by video message. Trudeau, a former teacher, praised Maggie’s work in Salluit: “You have done extraordinary things in exceptional circumstances and have showed enormous heart, will and imagination.”
He went on to say that “teachers owe responsibilities to many people - to students, to parents, to the community, the school board. But in the end, as all great teachers know - they are responsible to something far greater. They have a responsibility to the future and to the world that will be shaped by the children they teach.”
In her emotional acceptance speech, Maggie addressed teachers everywhere, saying, “We matter, teachers matter.” Three of Maggie’s students also made the trip to Dubai with her. She plans to set up an environmental stewardship program for northern youth, focused on kayaking, with her $1 million prize money.
Congratulations, Maggie! And here’s to teachers everywhere, who go above and beyond every day, both inside and outside the classroom.
For more on the Global Teacher Prize, visit www.globalteacherprize.org.
This article has been reposted from AcceleratED on Medium.