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#TeachersMatter: Billionaire Sunny Varkey’s education ‘Nobel’ to raise status of teachers

On 16 March, an inspirational teacher will be awarded the inaugural Global Teacher Prize, a competition designed to raise the status of the teaching profession and which is being described as the ‘Nobel Prize’ for education.

After thousands of entries were submitted from across the globe, a fifty-strong long-list has been whittled down to a final list of 10 which includes teachers from as far afield as England, the United States, Haiti, Kenya, East Timor, Afghanistan and India.

The ten finalists have all been praised for their innovation in the classroom, engagement with the community beyond the school gates, impact on children as well as their contributions to the profession of teaching.

The winner of the $1 million 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.

Among the finalists are Kiran Bir Sethi from India and Malaysian national Madanjit singh.

Ms Sethi is the founder of the groundbreaking Riverside School in Ahmedabad which has been widely lauded for its focus on ‘Design Thinking’ – encouraging students to understand empathetically and not just intellectually.

The policy aims to nurture collaboration and the creation of future ‘citizen leaders’ and aims to have an impact on the wider community by promoting the celebration of childhood.


Mr Singh meanwhile is co-founder of Science of Life Studies 24/7 an NGO that offers a free two-year training and boarding program on life-skills for disadvantaged and at-risk youths from poor communities across south and southeast Asia.

The duo and their fellow finalists are set to descend on Dubai next month for the Global Education and Skills Forum where the winner will be announced.

The Global Teacher Prize is the brainchild of education tycoon Sunny Varkey, the Kerala-born, Dubai-based founder of GEMS Education, the world’s largest operator of private kindergarten-to-grade 12 schools.  The billionaire’s charity The Varkey Foundation awards the prize.

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.

The UKAsian’s editor Viji Alles spoke to Vikas Pota, the Chief Executive Officer of the Varkey Foundation.



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