Palestinian wins Global Teacher Prize, the 'Nobel prize for teaching'

This year’s Global Teacher Prize was won by Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub.
This year’s Global Teacher Prize was won by Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub.

Winner and finalists of Global Teacher Prize enjoy greater recognition from countrymen

They might not have won a US$1 million (S$1.37 million) teaching prize earlier this month. But these finalists of the Global Teacher Prize - dubbed the "Nobel prize for teaching" - have enjoyed greater recognition from their fellow countrymen for their contributions.

The award was started by Dubai-based education charity Varkey Foundation to raise the profile of the profession globally, and is now in its second year.

This year's prize went to Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub, 43, who grew up in a refugee camp in Bethlehem and now specialises in educating and supporting refugee children regularly exposed to violence.

She received the award at a ceremony this month following a two-day Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, where thought leaders, educators and policymakers discussed pressing issues in global education. Among those who attended the ceremony was Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum. The winner was announced by Pope Francis in a video message.

Ms Al Hroub was selected based on criteria such as the use of innovative teaching approaches in the classroom and achievements in the community.

This year, more than 8,000 teachers from 148 countries were nominated for the prize, up from 5,000 educators from 127 countries last year. In the stories that follow, The Straits Times features the work of four finalists.

Tackling extremism among students in terrorist hotbed

Mr Mohamud fights radicalisation in his school’s area by helping students understand the correct teachings of Islam. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kenyan teacher Ayub Mohamud teaches at a school in an inner-city Nairobi neighbourhood identified as a recruiting ground for Islamist militant group Al-Shabab.

Kenya has, in recent years, been hit by terror attacks by the Al-Qaeda-linked group, which is based in Somalia. For instance, at least 148 people were massacred last April when militants stormed Garissa University College in Kenya.

Mr Mohamud, who is among the 10 finalists of this year's Global Teacher Prize, teaches religious studies and business at Eastleigh High School, situated in a suburb of Nairobi better known as "Little Mogadishu" for its large ethnic Somali community.


Creativity and independent thinking, built with Lego bricks

Mr Takahashi said students who are not good with language can use Lego bricks to express what and how they think. PHOTO: KOGAKUIN UNIVERSITY JUNIOR AND SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL

Students call him the "Lego teacher", and Mr Kazuya Takahashi of Kogakuin University Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan, has certainly earned the title.

After all, the 35-year-old uses novel teaching methods, including the use of the plastic toy bricks, to teach independent thinking and creativity in subjects such as English. In a typical lesson, his students may be asked to form small groups and use the toy bricks to create stories about what they have learnt.

Mr Takahashi, a finalist of the Global Teacher Prize, said some students, who may not be good at expressing themselves through language, can use Lego bricks to break through. Such activities also encourage other students to think out of the box.


Helping marginalised girls reach their potential

A former US Air Force officer, Ms Chaurasiya moved to Mumbai and started the Kranti School in 2011. PHOTO: GLOBAL EDUCATION AND SKILLS FORUM

Former United States Air Force lieutenant Robin Chaurasiya, who was born to Indian immigrant parents in Los Angeles, was forced to leave her job several years ago when her employers learnt that she was a lesbian.

Undeterred by the setback, the 30-year-old, who grew up in the US, moved to Mumbai, India, where she started the not-for-profit Kranti School in 2011 for marginalised children, victims of trafficking and daughters of sex workers from the city's red-light district.

Her school, which is funded largely by private donations, caters to teenage girls of different castes, religions, ethnicities, literacy levels and abilities.


Turning to hip hop music and drones

Mr Fatheree has experimented with different approaches over the course of his long career to get students excited about learning. PHOTO: JOE FATHEREE

American high school teacher Joe Fatheree started his teaching career more than 25 years ago, and soon discovered that his students did not respond well to the methods he had learnt when he was training to be an educator.

The 51-year-old teacher at Effingham High School in Illinois began experimenting with various teaching approaches and eventually turned to, among other things, hip hop music and technology such as drones to get students excited about learning.

"Many of the students in my class at that time... saw little value in their education," he said. "School was something they endured instead of embraced."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Nobel prize of noble profession'. Print Edition | Subscribe