teachers are some of the best and least self-serving people I know

Mostly, we remember our teachers all of our lives; and this is often because our relationship with a teacher is likely to be the first we form outside of our immediate family. Sometimes we remember because we especially liked or admired a particular teacher, or perhaps because the opposite was true!  However it is for you, we need teachers because they perform a vital role in society.


Years back, I worked for a teacher's charity in London; I was already a teacher at that time, but I had taken a break from the classroom. In this job I looked at teaching from a social perspective rather than a personal one. Travelling to work one day on the always-crowded London tube, I was lazily reading the ads, as you do, and it crossed my mind that everybody in that carriage could also read those ads - thanks to a teacher!

Teaching is more than a job; it's what used to be called a vocation – something to dedicate your life to. Being a teacher though is hard work, drawing on every fibre of your being in order for you to effectively engage and teach children and young people (or adults) meaningful aspects of subject knowledge that will enable them to learn and become educated.

Teachers obtain a university degree before entering into the profession, or perhaps they convert from another degree course or profession. The teaching profession, unlike others that play a far less vital role in society, often seems to struggle for status – a struggle involving a lack of public funding, of public recognition, of practical resources, or of adequate remuneration for its members. 


Despite this, teachers are some of the best and least self-serving people I know. Good or even great teachers make a difference to our lives and deserve our respect. Thankfully there are now opportunities for us to show our respect and appreciation for teachers (educators) and others who work to further education practice in the classroom, in education research or in education development. Though there may be many, this article explores two annual global education prizes: The Global Teacher Prize and The Yidan Prize.




If you had won $1m, would you use that to bring 'The Arts' into your classroom? Wouldn’t you be tempted to spend some on yourself, a holiday at least? Well, this London educator, named the 'Worlds Best Teacher' and recipient of a $1m prize, knew exactly what she wanted to do. 


Andria collected the honour at a ceremony in Dubai. 

Arts and Textiles teacher Andria Zafirakou was presented with the (2018) fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, in Dubai. Andria collected the honour at a ceremony attended by the former US vice president Al Gore, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton

In a congratulatory message played during the ceremony, British prime minister Theresa May said the award was a “fitting tribute” for everything Andria had done. Andria, who is the first UK teacher to win the award, told reporters: “I was shocked, completely overwhelmed. I didn’t realise it was me.” She went on to say that teachers in the UK “Work extremely hard," and "This award goes out to all of us.”


Asked what she will do with the prize money, Andria said: “I’m going to be patient, I’m going to reflect, but as you know I think it would be really fantastic if I could think about how the arts could be celebrated even further within our school community.”  Now Andria is recruiting painters, musicians, dancers, actors, illustrators, film makers and comedians to become “artists in residence” at schools in London and inspire a generation of children. 

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg (left), artist Mark Wallinger (centre left), and historian Sir Simon Schama (right) have thrown their weight behind the campaign.


Picture by Alex Lentall of The London Evening Standard

In Theresa May’s relayed message to Dubai, she went on to say: “Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity and a generous heart. These are the qualities that you share with your students every day. So, thank you for all you have done and continue to do.” In accepting the prize, Andrea will be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation and is required to remain working as a classroom teacher for at least five years. She will be paid the $1m prize money in installments.

Andria works at the Alperton Community School in Brent, Northwest London, one of the poorest areas of the country. All in all, around 130 languages are spoken in this London borough, where pupils come from a variety of backgrounds. Andria has called for more support for the “Power of The Arts;” saying schools can make a positive difference in children’s lives through creative subjects. “I have seen how the arts help students to communicate. The arts help to give so much confidence and really create incredible young people.”

In an effort to build links with her pupils, Andria learned basic phrases in languages including Gujarati, Hindi and Tamil and visited family homes. “By getting pupils to open up about their home lives, I discovered that many of my students come from crowded homes where multiple families share a single property,” Andria said.


“It’s often so crowded and noisy I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.” In response to this, Andria organised extra lessons during the day and the weekend, including giving pupils a quiet place to work. “What is amazing is that whatever issues they are having at home, whatever is missing from their life or causing them pain, our school is theirs.”

She also redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers to make it relevant to pupils and helped set up girls-only sports clubs for those from conservative communities. Nominations from pupils at Alperton community school spoke of Andria’s dedication and ability to inspire potential in her students and the local community.


Last year, Canadian teacher Maggie MacDonnell won the prize for her work with indigenous students in the remote and isolated village of Salluit in north Quebec. The other finalists at this year’s ceremony were from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey and the US.



Founded in 2016 by Charles Chen Yidan, the Yidan Prize has a mission to create a better world through education. The Yidan Prize consists of two awards: The Yidan Prize for Education Research and The Yidan Prize for Education Development.

Charles Chen Yidan

Both Yidan Prize Laureates receive a gold medal and a total sum of HK$30m (around US$3.9m) including a cash prize of HK$15m (around US$1.9m) and a project fund of HK$15m. To ensure transparency and sustainability, the prize is managed by the Yidan Prize Foundation and governed by an independent trust with an endowment of HK$2.5 billion (around US$323m). Through a series of initiatives, the prize serves to establish a platform that allows the global community to engage in conversation around education and to play a role in education philanthropy.

During a Hollywood Style event in Hong Kong, attended by The Honorable Mrs. Carrie Lam, Governor of Hong Kong, the Yidan Prize kicked off its 2017 Inaugural Prize Winning Award ceremony, combined with an opportunity to hear from leading thought leaders in education today. The recipients of the prize, known as Laureates, were two prominent educators with a lifelong dedication to their respective fields: Carol Dweck for Education Research and Vicky Colbert for Education Development.

Carol Dweck

Professor Carol S. Dweck is a distinguished psychologist whose stellar academic success in her decades of research on the nature of intelligence is surpassed only by the original and scalable interventions she developed with remarkable improvements in learning outcomes. 

The discovery of how underlying beliefs about intelligence affect learning motivation has transformed the way we understand students’ abilities and the continuous developmental potential of our brains. By distinguishing what have now become widely known as the two mindsets that shape our lives - the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset” - Professor Dweck demonstrated that our belief in the malleability of intelligence can dramatically improve students’ performance. We now know that a student’s implicit beliefs about their potential have profound implications for how hard they work, especially in the face of challenge, and that a focus on effort and process cultivates a love for learning that is essential for great accomplishments.


What is remarkable about Professor Dweck’s work is the scientifically demonstrable ability to explain and predict behavior, and the consistently validated results of pragmatic mindset interventions in different school and work settings. 


Her commitment to scientific rigor and quality for over 35 years is impressive and humbling. With the award of the Yidan Prize, we hope to contribute to raising awareness and implementation of the “growth mindset” intervention across the world, expanding its application and implementation in schools across demographic strata, and enabling educators everywhere to adopt methods that nurture growth, confidence and resilience in our younger generations.


The judging panel sees the generative potential of Professor Dweck’s work extending far beyond students in formal schooling.  As the definition of education morphs along with the fast-changing socio-economic paradigm, the “growth-mindset” offers an achievable aspiration for all of us to develop new skillsets that are fundamental to thriving in the digitalized, automated world. Professor Dweck has shown humanity our shared potential and a proven methodology for growing intellectually and adapting to a future that we have yet to envisage.

Vicky Colbert

Over the past 40 years, Ms Vicky Colbert has developed and successfully delivered, across 14 countries in 3 continents, an innovative learner-centered approach to rural schools that equips students from the most resource-constrained regions with 21st century skills.


The transformative, evidence-based Escuela Nueva model - meaning New School in English - is a systemic approach that promotes learning through dialogue and interaction. It allows for active, self-paced learning that is adapted to local needs. Through a participatory and collaborative approach that allows for cross-peer tutoring, children are given the opportunity to consolidate their own mastery of knowledge; while a flexible promotion mechanism engenders an open, supportive environment that strengthens the relationship between schools and the community.  


Escuela Nueva has been influencing public policy and improving education structures for decades in Colombia and internationally. With an emphasis on innovation, evaluation and continuous improvement, Escuela Nueva presents a tested, yet novel educational model that facilitates our children to grow together harmoniously. It is a universal system that has the proven track record of transcending national, cultural, political and economic boundaries to benefit hard-to-reach students.


The judging panel is thoroughly impressed by how Ms Colbert’s work demonstrates that high quality schooling can be cost-effective in the harshest environments. Her model excels in developing both intellectual and social-emotional capacities of its students - an inspiring testament to the fact that well-rounded progressive education is not a privilege reserved for students in developed economies.


At a time when rapid urbanisation sees more than half of the world’s population living in cities, humanity collectively is in dire need of high quality education that is accessible and affordable to struggling communities, building the necessary foundation for improved and sustainable livelihoods for countless migrant youth in search for employment across the world. 


And yet, the impact of Ms Colbert’s work goes far beyond formal schooling in rural communities. In 1987, she co-founded Fundación Escuela Nueva (FEN), selected as one of the best NGOs in the world, to preserve the quality and integrity of the Escuela Nueva model, and to replicate its ecosystem of life-empowering, contextual learning experience across both rural and urban areas in a wide range of settings.


I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ms Vicky Colbert again for her life’s work and tremendous achievement. I look forward to learning how her footprints can spread to the benefit of children worldwide with the award of the Yidan Prize. On behalf of the judging panel I wish her and her colleagues continued success in their dedicated work to give every child the opportunity to benefit from holistic quality education.

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