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L-R-Hanan Al Hroub, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Sunny Varkey

Global teacher prize awarded at GESF

The Global Education and Skills Forum brought together leaders from across the sector to promote education and equality for all

Posted by Stephanie Broad | March 15, 2016 | Events

The annual Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) is convened by the Varkey Foundation and held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. 

With partners including UNESCO, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Dubai Cares, GESF features intense debates on reconciling the relevance, excellence and inclusiveness of both public and private learning environments.

GESF 2016 culminated on 13 March with the live announcement of the second annual award of the US $1 million Global Teacher Prize.

The Global Teacher Prize was set up to recognize 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. Now in its second year, the US$1 million award is the largest prize of its kind.

Hanan Al Hroub, from Samiha Khalil High School, Al-Bireh, Palestine, was awarded the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2016, awarded under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

Announced via a special video message, His Holiness Pope Francis said: “I would like to congratulate the teacher Hanan Al Hroub for winning this prestigious prize due to the importance that she gave to the ‘playing’ part in the education of the children. 

“A child has the right to play. Part of education is to teach children how to play because you learn how to be social through games as well as learn the joy of life.

“A population that is not well educated because of the wars, or by other reasons that exist in order not to get any education, is a population that decays. That is why I would like to highlight the noble profession of a teacher.” 

Hanan Al Hroub grew up in the Palestinian refugee camp, Bethlehem, where she was regularly exposed to acts of violence. She went into primary education after her children were left deeply traumatised by a shooting incident they witnessed on their way home from school. Her experiences in meetings and consultations to discuss her children’s behaviour, development and academic performance in the years that followed led Hanan to try to help others who, having grown up in similar circumstances, require special handling at school.

Hanan embraces the slogan ‘No to Violence’ and uses a specialist approach she developed herself, detailed in her book, ‘We Play and Learn’. She focuses on developing trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students and emphasises the importance of literacy. Her approach has led to a decline in violent behaviour in schools where this is usually a frequent occurrence; she has inspired her colleagues to review the way they teach, their classroom management strategies and the sanctions they use. 

After being awarded the prize, Hanan Al Hroub said: “I am proud to be a Palestinian female teacher standing on this stage. I accept this as a win for all teachers in general and Palestinian teachers in particular. 

“Each day, the role of the teacher is reinforced and its importance is confirmed as the world questions what future we want for our children. 

“Yes, we can help our children investigate this world and understand it, which helps them to be integrated within it. We can teach children to be effective and inventive through various contexts which include entertainment, drawing and movement. We need to help children with questioning, dialogue, thinking and feeling to help them express themselves.

“We, as teachers can build the values and morals of young minds to ensure a fair world, a more beautiful world and a more free world.” 

The only UK finalist for the prize was maths teacher Colin Hegarty from Preston Manor School, an academy in Wembley. Colin has set up a website with videos teaching children how to solve maths problems, and describes maths as ‘quite addictive’. He has already won a Pearson national teaching award in the UK.

A future of tolerance

Educating young people on citizenship values is fundamental to building a future of tolerance and global peace, said Tony Blair, former British premier and founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, in a closing panel discussion that focused on how to take greater collective responsibility for public education. 

“There is real anxiety among people on how the world is changing; their incomes are stagnating and they are not getting anywhere in life. It then becomes easy to gravitate to populism. To push back the wave of populism, the answer is to focus on education,” he said.

“Your education system does express what you stand as a society. If you want to educate young people for the modern world, it is essential that they are also educated to a culturally tolerant view of the world. This works across the boundaries of faith and culture.”

Blair said the drivers for positive change include strengthening the quality of teaching by raising the standards of the teachers, and building leadership skills in schools; “I have seen bad schools with good leaders but never a good school with bad leaders.”

He also highlighted the transformative role that technology plays in driving education, what goes into the curriculum, and a greater role for the private sector.

Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive of WPP plc, UK, called for the educational system to adapt to the changing technology base, and stressed on the importance of providing highly practical and relevant education. “A part of the problem is that governments tend to have a short-term approach to education; the planning cycle is for five years – not long-term,” he said.

The teacher of 2030

A discussion on what teachers in 2030 will look like presented a comprehensive portrait of preferred abilities that include being tech-savvy, upholding the highest values of nobility and serving as ardent advocates of peace.

The session, moderated by Tony Jackson, Vice President of Education Asia Society in the USA, witnessed heightened debate on the impact of technology on teachers and whether the two are mutually exclusive. The verdict was unanimous: technology can only serve as an enabler while teachers, with their face-to-face interaction and counsel will be as relevant as ever. “Goodbye, then, to robotutors,” remarked Jackson. 

Teachers of 2030 must be noble, says the expert panel

William Samoei Ruto, Deputy President of Kenya, said that technology must be leveraged as part of building the capacity of teachers to ensure that they can “deliver what gadgets and technology will never be able to offer.” To maximise the value of technology, Kenya is bringing electricity to all schools in the country this year and one million students will have access to digital devices

Anies Basweden, Minister of Education & Culture of Indonesia, emphasised the role of technology in delivering better teaching experience, adding that the biggest challenge today is that “while teachers and students are 21st century, the classrooms are 19th century. There is an urgent need to improve the quality of education infrastructure.”

Basweden said that teachers must be provided an environment where they are encouraged to be continuous learners. “With the rapid changes around us, and some of the current jobs set to be obsolete, it is important that teachers learn continuously to prepare our students for the future. What we need to build is a credible and creative educational ecosystem, not just focusing on technology, but with the goal of improving quality and professionalism.”

Teachers of 2030 should have the ability to instill strong social skills in the students observed Beatrize Cardoso, Executive Director, Laboratorio De Educacao of Brazil, adding that the future is one of hybrid teaching models – where there is always face-to-face learning supported by the tools of technology. 

Furthering the teacher versus technology debate, David Edwards, Deputy General Secretary of Education International in Belgium, said that technology cannot make up for poor teaching; “what it does is amplify good teaching.” 

Read more about the event at 

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