Wearing the plain, floor-length brown robe of a Franciscan brother, Kenyan science teacher Peter Mokaya Tabichi could barely contain his joy upon being named winner of the annual Global Teacher Prize of one million dollars for his work in a rural school with disadvantaged children.
He received the award at a lavish ceremony in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “I feel great. I can’t believe it,” the village teacher said as he mounted the podium. He had been chosen from among 10,000 nominations from 179 countries.
Tabichi gives 80 percent of his monthly income to the poor and through dedicated teaching has driven his poorly-resourced school to emerge victorious in a nationwide science competition.
By making students believe in themselves, enrollment has doubled to 400 over three years, and cases of misbehavior have fallen from 30 per week to just three.
Tabichi teaches science at the Keriko Secondary School in Pwani, in Nakuru County, the Rift Valley, where drought and famine are common.
The school has no library or laboratory and a teacher-student ratio of 58 to one. He plans to use the million dollars from his win to improve the school and feed the poor.
The prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation, whose founder, Sunny Varkey, established the for-profit GEMS Education company that runs 55 schools in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.
In March 2011, the foundation partnered with UNESCO for girls’ education in Lesotho and Kenya, and donated one million dollars to the effort. In September 2011, a further one million was pledged with UNESCO to train 10,000 school principals in India, Ghana, and Kenya. In 2014, the foundation’s Teacher Training Program committed to train 250,000 teachers within 10 years in under-served communities across the world.
In his acceptance speech, Tabichi told of losing his mother when he was just 11, leaving his father, a primary school teacher, with the job of raising him and his siblings alone.
Tabichi thanked his father for instilling Christian values in him, then pointed to his dad in the audience, invited him up on stage and handed him the award as the room erupted in applause and cheers.
Now in its fifth year, the prize seeks to celebrate the contribution teachers make to society around the world.