Palestinian teacher wins US$1 million international teaching prize

Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub (left) accepts the Global Teacher Prize from Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (centre) while Varkey Foundation chairman Sunny Varkey (right) applauds.
Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub (left) accepts the Global Teacher Prize from Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (centre) while Varkey Foundation chairman Sunny Varkey (right) applauds. PHOTO: GLOBAL EDUCATION AND SKILLS FORUM

DUBAI - Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub grew up in a refugee camp, where she was often exposed to acts of violence.

Now, the teacher at Samiha Khalil High School in Al-Bireh, Palestine, is a teacher of refugee children, helping those who have grown up in similar circumstances by supporting them in school.

On Sunday evening (Mar 13), the 43-year-old pipped nine other educators to take home a US$1 million (S$1.37 million) teaching prize awarded by a Dubai-based education charity.

Dubbed the "Nobel Prize for teaching", the Global Teacher Prize, now in its second year, honours a teacher who has made major contributions to the profession.

Ms Al Hroub said that teachers have the ability to change the future.

The ongoing conflict in Palestine has made schools tense environments, but Ms Al Hroub has devoted her time to developing trust and respect with her students. Besides emphasising the importance of literacy, she encourages her students to work together.

Her approach has led to a decline in violent behaviour in school, and also inspired her colleagues to review the way they teach.

"We, as teachers, can build the values and morals of young minds to ensure a fair world, a more beautiful and free world," Ms Al Hroub said. "The future seems ambiguous. However, when you are involved in making it, the world represents a light."

Ms Al Hroub received the prestigious prize at an awards ceremony following a two-day Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, where thought leaders, educators, policy-makers congregate over the weekend to discuss the pressing issues in global education.

Those who attended the ceremony included Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and former British prime minister Tony Blair.

The teaching prize, awarded by the non-profit education organisation Varkey Foundation, was started by the foundation's founder and chairman Sunny Varkey to raise the status of the teaching profession around the world.

The finalists were judged by the prize's academy, which is made up of prominent individuals including public officials, head teachers, academics and entrepreneurs.

The winner is chosen based on a rigorous set of criteria, such as the use of innovative teaching approaches in the classroom and their achievements in the community.

Last year's prize went to Ms Nancie Atwell, founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit K-8 demonstration school in Maine, United States, who donated the prize money to her school to support underprivileged students. The school is known for its small class sizes, research-based curriculum and teacher training programmes.  

Ms Atwell was recognised for her work in teaching children to read and write. Her students are able to choose what they read and can take on as many as 40 books a year.

She told The Straits Times that part of the prize money has gone towards upgrading her school and buying more books for the students.

"Best of all, the needy children are also able to receive tuition assistance, and those who cannot afford to pay do not have to do so to come to school," she added.

"And this award has helped to raise the level of the teachers' credibility, no matter where they are in the world."

This year, more than 8,000 teachers from 148 different countries were nominated for the yearly teacher prize, up from over 5,000 educators from 127 countries.