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#Inspirational: Three Indian teachers in shortlist for $1 million Global Teacher Prize

Kiran Bir Sethi

Three teachers from India are among fifty exceptional educators long-listed for the inaugural $1 million Global Teacher Prize, a new charity initiative aimed at finding the finest teaching professionals from around the world.

Kiran Bir Sethi of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad; Hira Prasad of the Birla High School, Kolkata and Bijal Damani of the S N Kansagra School in Rajkot, are among those long-listed following thousands of nominations from 127 countries for the Prize which is awarded by the Varkey GEMS Foundation.

The long-list is dominated by teachers from the United States with 16 nominees whilst two teachers are from the United Kingdom.

Ten teachers will be chosen for the final shortlist later this month.

The winner, who will be revealed in March 2015, will receive his or her $1 million prize over a ten-year period and will be required to remain a teacher for a minimum of five years after winning the prize.

The eventual recipient of the prize will be chosen by the Global Teacher Prize Academy which is made up of head-teachers, education experts, journalists, public officials, scientists and entrepreneurs from around the globe.

Finalists will be judged on whether they meet a variety of criteria, including innovation in the classroom, engagement with the community beyond the school gates, impact on children as well as contributions to the profession of teaching.

Above: Hira Prasad (Left) and Bijal Damani

The Global Teacher Prize is the brainchild of Dubai-based Indian billionaire and UNESCO goodwill ambassador Sunny Varkey, founder of GEMS Education, the world’s largest operator of private kindergarten-to-grade 12 schools.

Mr Varkey, who has attributed his success to his own “amazing” teachers and parents, said the prize is an attempt to pay tribute to the millions around the world working in one of the world’s most under-valued professions.

“The thousands of applications we received from all around the world is testimony to the achievements of teachers and the enormous impact they have on all of our lives.  We introduced the prize this year in order to return teachers to their rightful position as the one of the most respected professions in society”, he said.

“The prize is not only about money; it’s also about unearthing thousands of stories of inspiration as the many applications prove.  My hope is that the prize is the start of a million conversations about the role of teachers – from families around the dinner table and teenagers on social media to education ministries around the world”, Mr Varkey added.

Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, who sits on the Global Teacher Prize Academy that will choose the final winner, said: “When I was starting out, I was inspired by an older, more experienced actor, who told me that he thought I ought to go into acting professionally.  That’s the kind of mentoring and personal support that every young person needs to realise their potential.

“It’s the kind of encouragement and guidance that good teachers give to their pupils every day.  And that is why I support the Varkey GEMS Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize.  However much we achieve in life, we all began learning the basics from a teacher in a classroom.

“Those that teach – devoting their talents and time to nurturing the talents of others – deserve to be respected and celebrated”, Spacey added.

The winner will also be invited to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey GEMS Foundation, their teaching schedule permitting.

The Foundation – chaired by President Clinton and backed by Amnesty International, Oxfam, UNICEF and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, among others – aims to impact 100 poor children from across the developing world for every child enrolled at one of the 132 schools run by GEMS around the world.

The Indian Nominees:

Kiran Bir Sethi set up the groundbreaking Riverside School in Ahmedabad.  Central to the school’s method of teaching is “Design Thinking”.  This focuses on encouraging students to understand empathetically, not just intellectually.  This, in turn, aims to encourage collaboration and the creation of future ‘citizen leaders’ who have a vivid grasp of how to help others.  It has also had an effect on the wider community through the ‘aProCh’ program, which is a city project promoting the celebration of childhood.

Hira Prasad is a Mathematics teacher and has been an advocate of an integrated approach for mathematics education.  She says, “Teaching is like having an account in the social media network, the more we update our profile in terms of the latest pedagogy and strategy, the more likes we get for it.”  Her innovative methodology incorporates activities such as dance and music into the learning of maths – eradicating the ‘maths phobia’ children commonly have.  She was awarded Intel’s National Award for the Best Integration of Technology into Classroom Learning in 2004.  This enabled her to train 300 teachers across Kolkata to adopt similar innovations.  Hira would like to use the prize money to build a team that would allow her to share her pedagogical methods across India.

Bijal Damani, teaches Commerce to senior students.  To make learning exciting for kids, one of the initiatives she organized is Project Galaxy Bazaar – a social entrepreneurship project that helps students learn the tricks of business.  She has raised nearly $60,000 for the initiative.  The impact of this project will extend over the next few decades.  Bijal would use the prize money to set up a ‘Bridge The Gap’ program.  This would see students instructing parents (and teachers) in IT.  She would also extend her existing Innovative Product and Marketing Competition internationally and set up a specific worldwide Social Networking site for teachers.

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