Stephen Fry and Ranjitsinh Disale
Actor Stephen Fry announcing Ranjitsinh Disale as the winner of the Global Teacher Prize. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Indian village teacher Ranjitsinh Disale, who transformed the life chances of young girls at the Zilla Parishad Primary School, Paritewadi, Solapur, Maharashtra, India, has been named the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2020, in partnership with Unesco.

Now in its sixth year, the $1 million (Dh3.67 million) award established by the Varkey Foundation was launched in Dubai in 2014 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The Global Teacher Prize, nurtured in Dubai, becomes a gift to the world as London is the first of the new host cities.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Global Teacher Prize, said: “We’d like to thank Sheikh Mohammed for creating such a powerful platform to celebrate the world’s teachers. Nurtured in Dubai over the last six years, the global teacher prize ceremony has become a great gift to the world as London becomes the first of the new host cities, spreading its message into every corner of the globe.

“Congratulations to Ranjitsinh Disale for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2020. By sharing the prize money you teach the world the importance giving.”

In his winning speech, Disale announced that he will share half the prize money with his fellow Top 10 finalists, resulting in the other nine finalists receiving just over $55,000 each. This is the first time in the Global Teacher Prize’s six year history that the overall winner has shared the prize money with other finalists.

Over 12,000 nominations

Disale was selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world. 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.

Ranjitsinh Disale with his parents after winning the Global Teacher Prize 2020. Image Credit: Supplied

On winning the Global Teacher Prize 2020, Ranjitsinh Disale said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed education and the communities it serves in a multitude of ways. But in this hard time, teachers are giving their best to make sure every student has access to their birthright of a good education. Teachers are the real change-makers who are changing the lives of their students with a mixture of chalk and challenges. They always believe in giving and sharing.”

Dramatic turnaround

When Disale arrived at the Zilla Parishad Primary School in 2009 it was a dilapidated building, sandwiched between a cattle shed and a storeroom. Most of the girls were from tribal communities where school attendance could sometimes be as low as 2 per cent and teenage marriage was common. For those that did make it to school, the curriculum was not in their primary language (Kannada), leaving many students unable to learn at all.

The impact of Disale’s interventions has been extraordinary: there are now no teenage marriages in the village and 100 per cent attendance by girls at the school. Image Credit: Supplied

Disale was determined to turn this around, moving to the village and going to great efforts to learn the local language. He then not only translated the class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue but also embedded them with unique QR codes to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments. Crucially, by analysing their reflections Disale would change the content, activities and assignments in the QR coded textbooks to create a personalised learning experience for each student. Further to this, he upgraded the QR Coded Textbooks with immersive reader and Flipgrid tools to aid girls with special needs.

The impact of Disale’s interventions has been extraordinary: there are now no teenage marriages in the village and 100 per cent attendance by girls at the school. The school was also recently awarded the best school in the district with 85 per cent of his students achieving A grades in annual exams. One girl from the village has now graduated from University, something seen as an impossible dream before Disale arrived.

Virtual ceremony

For the first time, the Global Teacher Prize winning announcement was made at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London, with comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry announcing the winner. The ceremony also included a special recognition for one teacher — a COVID hero — who has gone above and beyond to keep young people learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $45,000 COVID Hero Award, supported by CVC Capital Partners, was given to UK Maths teacher Jamie Frost, whose free DrFrostMaths became a lifeline for students shut out of classrooms all around the world.

At this year’s ceremony, the Varkey Foundation also announced the launch of the new Global Student Prize, a $50,000 sister prize to the Global Teacher Prize, which will open applications and nominations in the new year. The Global Student Prize will create a powerful new platform to highlight the efforts of extraordinary students throughout world that are making a real impact on learning, the lives of their peers and on society beyond.