Dubai: Pakistani teacher Sister Zeph, who founded her own school for underprivileged children in the courtyard of her home at just 13, has been named the winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023.
The event was organised in collaboration with UNESCO and in strategic partnership with Dubai Cares, a UAE-based global philanthropic organisation.
Now in its eighth year, the $1 million award is the largest prize of its kind.
Sister Zeph, an English, Urdu, culture, inter-faith harmony, climate change teacher at Gujranwala, Punjab in Pakistan, was selected from over 7,000 nominations and applications for the Global Teacher Prize from 130 countries around the world.
Sister Zeph's distinction as the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2023, was announced by actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry at a ceremony which he also hosted, from UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris as a key part of its 42nd session General Conference.
Multi Grammy Award winning songwriter and producer Nile Rodgers spoke at the ceremony, highlighting the impact teachers had on his life and career, as well as the work of the We Are Family Foundation.
He said: “Learning is the greatest experience in life. Learning never ends and teachers never disappear.”
US National Youth Poet Laureate Alexandra Huỳnh wrote and read aloud a special poem on the value of an empowered education. The Voice singer Rachel Modest also performed at the ceremony, singing a tribute to the world’s teachers.
The event also saw the launch of the highlights of the UNESCO and Teacher Taskforce Global Report on Teachers, presenting comprehensive data and perspectives on global teacher challenges and providing actionable recommendations for teacher recruitment and retention.
The report spotlights that a staggering 44 million additional teachers need to be recruited globally to meet universal primary and secondary education in 2030.
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.
Sister Zeph: School in her courtyard
Sister Zeph founded her own school in the courtyard of her home at just 13 for children whose parents cannot pay fees.
She worked eight-hour days to fund the school, then taught students for another four hours, and then stayed up at night teaching herself. Twenty-six years later, the school, now housed in a brand-new building, provides free education for more than 200 underprivileged children.
From a young age she faced adversity, and emerged as a beacon of hope for underprivileged children in her wider community. Many of her students from humble background have gone to work for her education and empowerment foundation while others have gone on to very successful professional careers.
As well as running the school, she runs self-defence classes for girls, having herself been attacked and threatened.
She also provides financial assistance to families choosing between educating their children and paying their bills, and runs a vocational centre that has helped more than 6,000 women gain skills in ICT, textiles, and the English language.
Her dedication to education and empowerment has touched countless lives and earned her numerous awards, recognizing her as a true change-maker and advocate for women’s rights and children’s education around the world.
With the Global Teacher Prize funds, Sister Zeph plans to build a school on 10 acres where children from the poorest families in the country can be educated without discrimination. She would also like to create a shelter for orphans, where food would be grown on the property and teachers from all parts of the world would be invited to instruct them in a range of subjects.
Learning is the greatest experience in life. Learning never ends and teachers never disappear.
Top 10 finalists
The other top 10 finalists for the Global Student Prize 2023 are:
- Annie Ohana from Canada
- Deep Narayan Nayak from India
- Nicolas Gaube from France
- Shafina Vohra from the United Kingdom
- Eric Asomani Asante from Ghana
- Mariette Wheeler from South Africa
- Melissa Tracy from the United States,
- Geisha Bonilla from Chile
- Artur Proidakov from Ukraine
“Congratulations to Sister Zeph for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2023. Inspirational teachers deserve recognition for their strong commitment to education in a world faced by global teacher shortages and a decline in conditions and status. Teachers matter! Now more than ever, we must honor and support teachers as they shape not only the next generation but the future course of our societies.”
Shaping young minds
Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of Dubai Cares, said:
“Teachers are at the heart of the education ecosystem and have one of the most important jobs in the world as they shape young minds and prepare them for a world that is constantly changing. We congratulate Sister Zeph who has earned a place in history as the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2023. This accomplishment showcases her passion and enthusiasm for making teaching a truly enriching and meaningful experience for students. As an organization that understands the crucial role teachers play in a transformed education system, Dubai Cares looks forward to continue working towards empowering and enabling educators to transform the lives of children as well as their communities.”
Teachers are at the heart of the education ecosystem and have one of the most important jobs in the world as they shape young minds and prepare them for a world that is constantly changing.
Dubai Cares’ long-standing support for the Global Teacher Prize stems from its belief that an investment in teachers is an investment in human development.
Through its Framework for Global Education Transformation, Dubai Cares is committed to elevating the role of educators as coaches, mentors and facilitators as well as positioning them as “Human Experience Teachers” who can nurture students and empower them with the values, skills, knowledge and experiences they need to face the complexities and challenges of the future.
Applications and nominations for this year’s Global Teacher Prize opened on 6 May 2023 and closed on 25 June 2023. The prize is open to working teachers who teach children that are in compulsory schooling or are between the ages of five and eighteen.
Congratulations to Sister Zeph for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2023. Your incredible story shows the vital role education plays in tackling the great challenges of today and tomorrow.
Teachers who teach children age 4+ in an Early Years government-recognised curriculum are also eligible, as are teachers who teach on a part-time basis, and teachers of online courses. Teachers must spend at least 10 hours per week teaching and plan to remain in the profession for the next 5 years. It is open to teachers in every kind of school and, subject to local laws, in every country in the world.
Teachers applying for the Global Teacher Prize are 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.
How to apply
Interested teachers were able to apply for the Global Teacher Prize at www.globalteacherprize.org.
Helping to raise the bar of respect for the teaching profession, the winner was chosen from the top 10 finalists by the Global Teacher Prize Academy, made up of prominent individuals.
When teachers are nominated, the person nominating them writes a brief description online explaining why. The teacher being nominated is then sent an email letting them know they have been nominated and inviting them to apply for the prize.
Applicants could apply in English, Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. To join the conversation online, please follow @TeacherPrize.
The Varkey Foundation believes every child deserves a vibrant, stimulating learning environment that awakens and supports their full potential. The foundation believes nothing is more important to achieving this than the passion and quality of teachers. They support global teaching capacity and seed excellence and innovation in the next generation of educators. They also founded the Global Teacher Prize to shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world.
Since its inception in 2007, Dubai Cares, part of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, has been working towards providing children and youth in developing countries with access to quality education through the design and funding of programs that aim to be impactful, sustainable and scalable. To date, the UAE-based global philanthropic organization has successfully launched education programs reaching over 21 million beneficiaries in 60 developing countries.
Dubai Cares plays a key role in helping achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all, and promote lifelong learning by 2030, by supporting programs in early childhood development, access to quality primary and secondary education, technical and vocational education and training for youth as well as a particular focus on education in emergencies and protracted crises.
Moreover, Dubai Cares adopts a strategic approach to improve student enrolment and learning outcomes through an integrated school health and nutrition model that is made up of school-based deworming activities, school feeding, and WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) in schools.
Dubai Cares is a civil society organisation formally associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications (UN DGC), as well as a registered non-government organization under IACAD, the charitable activities regulator in Dubai. The UAE-based global philanthropic organization is authorized to raise funds through direct donations and fundraising campaigns, as well as process all permit approvals with IACAD.
Volunteerism is a powerful tool to Dubai Cares in order to engage people in tackling development challenges. Dubai Cares rallies the UAE wider community through a large spectrum of volunteering and awareness initiatives that are linked to its global mandate.
UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It contributes to peace and security by promoting international cooperation in education, sciences, culture, communication and information. UNESCO promotes knowledge sharing and the free flow of ideas to accelerate mutual understanding and a more perfect knowledge of each other’s lives. UNESCO’s programmes contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals defined in the 2030 Agenda, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015.