Palestinian wins $1.37m 'Nobel Prize' for teachers

Ms Al Hroubgrew up in a refugee camp and specialises in educating and supporting refugee children.
Ms Al Hroub grew up in a refugee camp and specialises in educating and supporting refugee children.

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

Now, the teacher at Samiha Khalil High School in Al-Bireh, Palestine, specialises in educating and supporting refugee children who have grown up in similar circumstances.

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

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 plans to spend the money to support her students.

The ongoing conflict in Palestine has made school environments tense, but she has chosen to work on developing trust and respect with her students.

Besides emphasising the importance of literacy, she encourages students to work together and pays close attention to their needs. Her approach has led to a decline in violent behaviour in school.

"We, as teachers, can build the values and morals in young minds to ensure a fair world, a more beautiful and free world," she said.

She received the prize ata ceremony following a two-day Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. There, policymakers and educators from several countries discussed pressing issues in global education.

The teaching prize was started by Varkey Foundation chairman Sunny Varkey to raise the profile of the teaching profession globally.

The other nine finalists, from countries such as India, Finland and Kenya were also honoured for going the extra mile for their students. Among them was American teacher Michael Soskil, 39, who engages his students in distance learning service projects and uses technology to link them to others who are passionate about world issues.

The Pennsylvania elementary school teacher said: "We strive to give our children the most amazing experiences they can get in school, beyond textbooks, to make sure they learn in meaningful ways."

Ms Al Hroub was chosen by a group comprising prominent individuals including public officials, teachers and entrepreneurs.

Winners were selected based on a 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 Centre for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit K-8 demonstration school in Maine, United States, who donated the money to her school to support needy students.  

She was recognised for her work in teaching children to read and write. She told The Straits Times that part of the prize money has gone towards, buying more books for the students.

She said: "Needy children are also able to receive tuition assistance, and those who cannot afford the fees do not have to pay to come to school. This award has helped raise the level of the teachers' credibility, no matter where they are in the world."

This year, over 8,000 teachers from 148 countries were nominated for the prize, up from over 5,000 educators from 127 countries last year.

Inspired by the award, countries such as Argentina, Italy, Nepal, Liberia, Palestine and Uganda will introduce national teaching prizes.

In Italy, the award will celebrate the role of teachers in its society. Mr  Alessandro Fusacchia, head of Cabinet of the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research, said: "We are not only looking for the best teacher in the country, but we want to create a community of teachers who can become role models for our children."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Palestinian wins $1.37m 'Nobel Prize' for teachers'. Print Edition | Subscribe