Dubai: A Canadian teacher from a remote village in the Canadian Arctic won the Global Teacher Prize, worth $1 million (Dh3.67 million), on Sunday night in Dubai.
Maggie MacDonnell was selected from among 10 international finalists who had flown in for the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF), held at Atlantis, The Palm.
The prize was given away by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Shaikh Mohammad is the patron of the award.
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Also present at the ceremony was Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and other top officials and dignitaries.
In his comments, Shaikh Mohammad said: “It was a pleasure to award Canadian Maggie MacDonnell the $1m Global Teacher Prize, for her excellence serving the noblest of professions.
“Recognising teachers’ efforts aims to honour the work of these change makers. Supporting education means advancing knowledge in all fields,” he said on his twitter account.
This is the third year of the award, an initiative of the non-profit Varkey Foundation, which also launched the annual GESF five years ago. UAE-based philanthropist and educationist Sunny Varkey is the founder of the foundation.
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Sunday’s winner was announced via a special video message from the International Space Station broadcasted into the Global Teacher Prize ceremony.
Last year, Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Haroub was awarded the prize for her efforts in helping children traumatised by violence in her area. In a video message on Sunday, she spoke about the transformation of her life following the win and called for world peace.
Meanwhile, MacDonnell was in tears following the announcement on Sunday night. Taking the stage, she said: “Thank you from bottom of my heart Shaikh Mohammad and Sunny Varkey for creating this breathtaking global platform for celebrating teachers, who often are very humble in nature.”
She added: “We matter, teachers matter… The greatest gift I will take from this event is the friendships I have made with the spectacular teachers who I share the stage with, and to all those 50 finalists, I have fallen in love with you and am re-energised by your spirit.”
MacDonnelI taught marginalised and troubled children in an indigenous community in the frigid northern territory. She said she witnessed 10 student suicides in two years. The top teacher thanked Shaikh Mohammad and Varkey and lauded the spirit of the UAE in paying attention to such a small community, so far away.
“You emulated global citizenship so much by paying attention to such a small community. Your love and generosity has transcended borders. Thank you for bringing global attention to them.”
The award ceremony began with a performance by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Mobile phones glittered in the packed hall as delegates took videos of the performance and the rest of ceremony. Some people had to stand near the doors because all the thousands of seats were taken.
Security was tight at the venue, with hundreds of people passing through three security gates leading to the main hall of the event.
The 50 shortlisted teachers for the award were also present in the hall.
Shamma Suhail Bin Faris Al Mazroui, Minister of State for Youth, told the audience that Shaikh Mohammad has stressed that the keys of the future are in the hands of students, who rely on teachers. She added that the role of teachers is not limited to academics alone but in how they inspire students to solve their own problems and pursue their dreams.
Speaking at the ceremony, Pakistani actress Mahirah Khan and Indian actor Ranbir Kapoor paid tributes to teachers who played a role in their lives.
In a special congratulatory video message broadcast into the ceremony hall, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said: “Maggie MacDonnell, on behalf of all Canadians, from one teacher to another, congratulations on winning the Global Teacher Prize 2017.
“You chose to teach at the Ikusik school in Salluit, a remote village in the Canadian Arctic. There are no roads to Salluit — it is only accessible by air and it gets cold, really cold. Minus twenty this time of year.
“I’d like to say thank you to every teacher out there. Teachers owe responsibilities to many people — to students, to parents, to the community, the school board. But in the end, as all great teachers know — they are ultimately responsible to something far greater. They are responsible to the future — and for the world that will be shaped by the children they teach”.
Who is Maggie MacDonnell
After completing her Masters degree, Maggie MacDonnell sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada and, for the last six years, has been a teacher in the Canadian Arctic. In winter, temperatures there are around minus 25C. There were six suicides in 2015, all affecting young males between the ages of 18 and 25.
Due to the harsh conditions, there are very high rates of teacher turnover, which is a significant barrier to education in the Arctic. Many teachers leave their post midway through the year, and many apply for stress leave.
There are tremendous gender issues in the Inuit region of Nunavik where teenage pregnancies are common and gender roles often burden young girls with large domestic duties. Also, in areas of high deprivation, isolation and limited resources, teenagers often turn to drinking and smoking, and even drugs and self-harm, as forms of escape and release.
MacDonnell’s whole approach has been about turning students from “problems” to “solutions”. She has created a life skills programme specifically for girls, which has seen a 500 per cent improvement in girls’ registration.
MacDonnell has also dramatically improved school attendance by getting her students involved in running a community kitchen, attending suicide prevention training and hiking through national parks to understand environmental stewardship.
MacDonnell also established a fitness centre that has become a hub for youth and adults in the local community. It is relieving stress, helping young people grow stronger physically and mentally and bringing the whole community together in a profound and lasting way.
MacDonnell has also been a temporary foster parent in the community, including to some of her own students.
With Italy being the GESF 2017 country partner, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, speaking via a special video message, said:
“We’re truly proud to be the country partner of the fifth Global Education & Skills Forum. We in Italy were so inspired by the brilliant idea of the Global Teacher Prize that we launched our own national teacher prize. You wouldn’t believe how much it has captured the public’s imagination. We have seen thousands of nominations — from Milan in the north of Italy to Naples in the south. But most importantly it has sparked thousands of conversations across our country about the role of teachers in society.”
In a video message broadcast into the ceremony, Prince Harry paid tribute to the work of teachers around the world. Prince Harry said: “In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, the very best teachers go beyond the pages of textbooks to teach young people about determination, aspiration, resilience and compassion. We will all face setbacks and challenges in our lives and our teachers play a vital role in preparing us for these ups and downs”.
Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: “I want to congratulate Maggie Macdonnell for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2017 from such a huge number of talented and dedicated teachers. I hope her story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world every day.”
The other nine finalists for the Global Teacher prize 2017 were:
Raymond Chambers, a computer science teacher from Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire, UK
Salima Begum, Headteacher at Elementary College for Women Gilgit, Pakistan
David Calle, from Madrid, Spain, the founder and creator of the Unicoos educational website
Wemerson da Silva Nogueira, a science teacher at the Escola Antônio dos Santos Neves in Boa Esperança, Brazil
Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahromi, a physical education, maths and German teacher at Gesamtschule Gescher school, in Gescher, Germany
Tracy-Ann Hall, an automotive technology teacher at Jonathan Grant High School in Spanish Town, Jamaica
Yang Boya, a psychology teacher at The Affiliated Middle School of Kunming Teachers College, China
Michael Wamaya, a dance teacher from Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya