Give educators a voice in policy, says $1 million Global Teacher Prize winner

Student award recipient invents device to harness clean power from pedestrians walking on streets


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 9:05 PM

Last updated: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 9:10 PM

The pressing need of the hour is to amplify teachers' voices as a powerful instrument to bring about positive change in society that can influence policy and practice.

These were the thoughts of the US teacher Keishia Thorpe, who is the latest recipient of the Global Teacher Prize that is presented annually to a teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

Thorpe highlights how the 1 million US dollar award to educators can help promote social justice in the classroom by increasing students' awareness of social justice issues.

She says, "Without education there is no progress. We must ensure that we pass on the legacy of education to the next generation of impressionable young people and right now we know education is facing a global crisis. I would encourage all teachers, policy makers, governments and businesses and all education stakeholders to come together collectively to find solutions."

Thorpe, who is an English teacher at International High School Langley Park, Bladensburg, Maryland in the US, has opened up college education for low-income, first-generation American, immigrant and refugee students.

Elated by her win, Thorpe points out she had barely expected the award to come to her. "there were so many teachers that are so deserving, that I really didn't expect that I would win. But when I made it to the top 50, I knew I was a part of the extraordinary teachers and this has already given me a platform to collaborate with other teachers and share their best practices."

"Receiving the prize money is definitely a stepping stone to achieving a lot of outcomes that I want for my students. The Global Teacher Prize gives me a platform to advocate on behalf of my students. Though, they are marginalized, despite that they remain resilient. I am passionate about many different things, but I really want to shed a light on students who want to access college."

"We know that not all students are desirous of going to college, but those who want to go to the university should have access to opportunities. So I want to make sure that whatever I do with the prize money I can help them afford that opportunity", explained the teacher.

Thorpe is also credited with redesigning the 12th-grade curriculum for the English department to make it culturally relevant to her students, who are first-generation Americans, immigrants or refugees from mostly Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South and Central America.

Covid-19 compounded problems especially among marginalized sections of students

She further underlines that Covid-19 has magnified a lot of challenges, especially for immigrant and refugee students and pupils from lower-income backgrounds.

"It's important that we continue to give teachers a seat at the table because we know that teachers are in the frontline every day, and they have a lot of solutions. Now with the global student prize it has also given students a platform and we know that students also have some of the answers. Therefore, I am really thankful to the Varkey Foundation especially Mr Sunny Varkey for having given teachers this opportunity to spotlight some of the issues that we face in education. I also want to send out this message that we don't just want to continue to talk anymore, we need to definitely become practitioners of social justice", Thorpe added.

Thorpe's caring goes way beyond the classroom. One of her greatest achievements was to co-found along with her twin sister, Dr Treisha Thorpe, the US Elite International Track and Field, Inc, a non-profit giving 'at risk' student-athletes across the globe an opportunity to use their talents as a vehicle to access fully funded scholarships to US colleges and universities.

"During the pandemic, we did our athletic and scholarship convention virtually where we were able to bring students into the zoom room where they have one on one with college admission officers and coaches and people who are willing to give them scholarships. They offered these opportunities to students across the globe because the problems that my students in America faced were not just in our communities."

"It was common to students across the globe in their local communities as well. We were trying to achieve a level playing field for students in education to ensure that all students have access to education at all levels and those who desire for higher levels have no restrictions or barriers", says the Varkey Teacher Ambassador.

Thoronka: Young people should take their ideas to other communities

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Thoronka, a student from Sierra Leone who invented a device that uses kinetic energy from traffic and pedestrians to generate clean power, was named the winner of the Global Student Prize 2021.

Thoronka says, "I want to scale up the project in other communities to see how more people can access green energy. So this is a good platform that will help me try out this project in the most deprived cities around Sierra Leone. This resource will help me do more things."

"Globalization is happening, people are moving everywhere, so this idea can be replicated anywhere around the world."

Jeremiah is the first winner of this new $100,000 sister award to the Global Teacher Prize, which is given to one exceptional student who has made a real impact on learning, the lives of their peers, and on society beyond.

He later says, "The Varkey Foundation is doing an amazing job because it takes a lot for effort to bring young people together, to acknowledge and highlight the excellence of the youth, to give them a responsibility, opening doors for so many fresh minds is truly commendable. As for my peers my message is…let them take their ideas and go to the communities outside and see how far they can go."

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