Riadh Zammali (right) and Lamya Butt: In the top 50 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Riadh Zammali, a PE teacher in Abu Dhabi, UAE, has been included in the top 50 shortlist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2021 in partnership with UNESCO, while Lamya Butt, a 17-year-old student at Dubai Scholars Private School, UAE, has been included in the top 50 shortlist for its new sister award, the Global Student Prize 2021.

Riadh, shortlisted for the Global Teacher Prize 2021, was selected from over 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world. Lamya, shortlisted for the Global Student Prize 2021, was selected from over 3,500 nominations and applications from 94 countries around the world.

Now in its seventh year, the $1 million Global Teacher Prize is the largest prize of its kind, while the Global Student Prize, which is in its inaugural year, will see the winning student receive $100,000.

Outstanding contribution

The Global Teacher Prize was set up to recognise one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society. By unearthing thousands of stories of heroes that have transformed young people’s lives, the prize hopes to bring to life the exceptional work of millions of teachers all over the world.

The Varkey Foundation launched the Global Student Prize earlier this year to create a powerful new platform to highlight the efforts of extraordinary students throughout the world that are making a real impact on learning, the lives of their peers and on society beyond. The prize is open to all students who are at least 16 years old and enrolled in an academic institution or training and skills programme. Part time students as well as students enrolled in online courses are also eligible for the prize.

Together, the Global Teacher Prize and the Global Student Prize will tell inspirational stories from both sides of education. The prizes will shine a spotlight on the great work teachers do in preparing young people for the future and the amazing promise the brightest students are showing in their learning and far beyond.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: “Congratulations to Riadh and Lamya, for reaching the final 50. Their stories clearly highlight the importance of education in tackling the great challenges ahead – from climate change to growing inequality to global pandemics. It is only by prioritising education that we can safeguard all our tomorrows. Education is the key to facing the future with confidence.” is a supporter of the Global Teacher Prize and has partnered with the Varkey Foundation to create the new Global Student Prize. Lila Thomas, Head of, said:

“In this age of COVID, students like Lamya have shown great courage to keep studying and keep fighting for a better future despite huge obstacles. The Global Student Prize has been launched to shine a light on their stories and listen to their voices. After all, it is their dreams, their insights and their creativity that will help solve some of the greatest questions humanity has ever faced.

“Our finalists this year have a made a huge impact in areas from the environment to equality and justice, from health and wellbeing to education and skills, from youth empowerment to ending poverty.

“We were so inspired by the achievements of these extraordinary students throughout the world that applied for the inaugural Global Student Prize that Chegg chose to double the value of the prize to $100,000.”

Who is Riadh Zammali?

Riadh Zammali grew up passionate about helping school pupils develop their skills and character through Physical Education (PE). Working in rural areas of Tunisia, where there is little infrastructure or equipment to practise PE, he nonetheless launched and led a number of PE school clubs, as well as the first sports associations for girls. Later, at the Ghayathi Center for Special Needs in the UAE, he introduced innovative new approaches to SEN sports – and in 2019, he presented the Microsoft Educational Program for people with disabilities for the first time in the region. As a result, Riadh’s students have since won more than 100 national and international sports prizes. His school has also forged new links throughout the region that will help it integrate more SEN students, winning Best SEN Public Centre in Abu Dhabi for 2020-2021. In 2020, Riadh won Best Teacher in Abu Dhabi public centres for people with disabilities, and was additionally nominated for the Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best Gulf Teacher (for the final evaluation. If he wins the Global Teacher Prize, Riadh will launch an association to support children with disabilities by using specially adapted smart learning, augmented and virtual reality tools.

Who is Lamya Butt?

Lamya Butt, a student at Dubai Scholars Private School, UAE, is a student who does not take good education for granted. She pursues learning with a zest – engaging in class discussions, taking leadership roles, and reaching the top of her class. She is the first Teen Advisor from the UAE for the United Nations Foundation Girl Up initiative and MENA Regional Leader. Lamya is also the Founder and CEO of the youth initiative Resilient Together, which works with international philanthropic organisations to provide ICT devices for 20,000 UAE students forced into distance learning by COVID. Winning the Global Student Prize would mean that she is able to fund her university studies and expand Resilient Together into podcasts and video platforms.

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director General for Education at UNESCO, said: “UNESCO is a proud partner of the Global Teacher Prize, which has done so much to highlight teachers’ transformational role in young people’s lives. Inspirational teachers and extraordinary students alike deserve recognition for their commitment to education amid the learning crisis we see today.

“If we are to rebuild a better world in the wake of COVID we must prioritise giving every child their birthright of a quality education. It is the next generation, with teachers as their guide, who will safeguard the future for us all.”

The application process

Applications and nominations for this year’s teacher and student prizes opened on Tuesday 2 February and closed on Sunday 16 May. Teachers who applied for the Global Teacher Prize are being assessed on teaching practices, how they innovate to address local challenges, achieve demonstrable learning outcomes, impact the community beyond the classroom, help children become global citizens, improve the teaching profession and gain recognition from external bodies. The $1 million award was won last year by Indian village teacher Ranjitsinh Disale.

Students who applied for the Global Student Prize are being assessed on their academic achievement, impact on their peers, how they make a difference in their community and beyond, how they overcome the odds to achieve, how they demonstrate creativity and innovation, and how they operate as global citizens.

Following today’s announcement, the top 10 finalists of both the Global Teacher Prize and the Global Student Prize will be announced in October this year. The winners of both prizes will be chosen from the respective top 10 finalists by the Global Teacher Prize Academy and the Global Student Prize Academy, made up of prominent individuals. The winners are due to be announced at an awards ceremony in Paris in November.

If teachers or students were nominated, the person nominating them was asked to write a brief description online explaining why. The teacher or student being nominated was then sent an email letting them know they had been nominated and inviting them to apply for the prize. Applicants were able to apply in English, Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.