A Kenyan teacher from a remote village who gave away most of his earnings to the poor won a US$1 million prize yesterday for his work teaching in a government-run school that has just one computer and shoddy internet access.
The annual Global Teacher Prize was awarded to Peter Tabichi in a ceremony hosted by actor Hugh Jackman.
“I feel great. I can’t believe it. I feel so happy to be among the best teachers in the world, being the best in the world,” Tabichi said.
The 36-year-old teaches science to secondary school students in the village of Pwani, where almost a third of children are orphans or have only one parent. Drought and famine are common.
He said the school has no library and no laboratory. He plans to use the million dollars from his win to improve the school and feed the poor.
Despite the obstacles Tabichi’s students face, he’s credited with helping many stay in school, qualify for international competitions in science and engineering, and go on to university.
“At times, whenever I reflect on the challenges they face, I shed tears,” he said of his students, adding that his win will help give them confidence.
The school, with a student-teacher ration of 58 to 1, has only one desktop computer for the pupils and poor internet, but despite that Tabichi “uses ICT in 80 per cent of his lessons to engage students”, said organisers the Varkey Foundation.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement that Tabichi’s story “is the story of Africa” and of hope for future generations.
As a member of the Roman Catholic brotherhood, Tabichi wore a plain floor-length brown robe to receive the award presented by Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation, whose founder, Sunny Varkey, established the for-profit GEMS Education company that runs 55 schools in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.
In his acceptance speech, Tabichi said his mother died when he was just 11 years old, leaving his father, a primary school teacher, with the job of raising him and his siblings alone.
Tabichi thanked his father for instilling Christian values in him, then pointed to his father in the audience, invited him up on stage and handed him the award to hold as the room erupted in applause and cheers.
Now in its fifth year, the prize is the largest of its kind. It’s quickly become one of the most coveted and prestigious for teachers. Tabichi swas elected out of out 10,000 applicants. The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists.
Last year, a British art teacher was awarded for her work in one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country. Her work was credited with helping students feel welcome and safe in a borough with high murder rates.
Other winners include a Canadian teacher for her work with indigenous students in an isolated Arctic village where suicide rates are high, and a Palestinian teacher for her work in helping West Bank refugee children traumatised by violence.