This year’s Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai attracted influential voices and policymakers to address common challenges and discuss new initiatives.
But the mid-March event was also a chance to celebrate successes, most notably by shining a spotlight on the stories of teachers from around the world, whose dedication, efforts and achievements can truly inspire and enthral.
The specific context for those stories is the Varkey Foundation’s US$1 million Global Teacher Prize, which was first introduced three years ago. It was conceived with a view to recognising teachers for their devotion to duty and the impact they make in encouraging learning and transforming young lives.
The two-day conference consisted of keynote speeches, panel discussions and a number of workshops.
“The prize was set up to enhance the respect given to teachers around the world and reward them,” says Vikas Pota, chief executive of the Varkey Foundation. “Ultimately, we want to inspire the best possible candidates to join the teaching profession, and we are thrilled that these shared goals are now taking root in individual countries.”
Education is constantly evolving
Vikas Pota, Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation
Indeed, the original initiative has already led to national teacher prizes being established in more than 20 countries. Colombia was the first to take that step, but was soon followed by the likes of Argentina, Italy, Liberia, Nepal and Uganda.
When Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub won the global prize in March last year, the story of her specialised approach to teaching refugee children and supporting those traumatised by violence was heard far and wide. No doubt, it was a major factor in prompting authorities in countries ranging from Albania and Iraq to Japan and Ukraine to announce their own national prizes and become part of a steadily growing list.
“When we embarked on this journey, we hoped there might be national spin-offs,” Pota says. “They are independent from us, but with a shared set of values, and we co-operate closely to make them a success. We couldn’t have dreamt things would get so far within the space of just three years.”
In encouraging each country to set up its own prize for teachers, the foundation shares information and advice on nomination and application processes, judging criteria, branding and timeframes.
Over thousands of educators, teachers, policy makers and journalists around the world gathered at the Palm Hotel in Dubai for the annual event.
Doing so helps to create a standard model, which can be adapted as appropriate to national needs. It is also a way of ensuring prizes go to individuals of similar high quality who represent the best of the profession.
The starting point is a formal memorandum of understanding between the foundation and the host nation. The latter can be represented by a government department, education provider, regulator, or other approved authority.
“Governments around the world are taking on board the message that we must do all we can to elevate the status of teachers,” Pota said. “It is wonderful to see the global prize is now being adapted to local needs in individual countries.”
The Varkey Foundation is also part of a separate initiative that was launched at this year’s Dubai forum. It has committed to providing the secretariat for the newly formed Atlantis Group, a body consisting of 20 former education ministers and heads of state. The founding principle is to offer practical advice to current governments on global education issues.
Initially, the group will undertake a year-long study considering the future of education leadership at all levels. Excellent leadership is seen as a prerequisite for any system to deliver what government, teachers, students, parents and donors expect, especially when advances in technology present new challenges and opportunities.
“Education is constantly evolving,” Pota says. “We can learn from experience in terms of what worked, what didn’t, and how we can use that knowledge to better develop the education systems of the future. Members of the Atlantis Group have extensive experience, unique perspectives, and can speak freely as they are no longer tied to particular government positions.”