US teacher Keishia Thorpe wins $1m Global Teacher Prize

A student from Sierra Leone also won the $100,000 Global Student Prize 2021

A US teacher who helped make college education accessible to low-income, immigrant, first-generation American, and refugee pupils has won the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2021.

Keishia Thorpe, an English teacher at International High School Langley Park in Maryland, was selected from more than 8,000 teachers in 121 countries.

"As a young girl, coming from the circumstances that I come from I would never have thought something like this would ever happen to me. I'm speechless, I'm overjoyed, I'm amazed. This is just an extraordinary accomplishment for me," Ms Thorpe said.

Ms Thorpe teaches English to 12th-graders at the International High School Langley Park in United States, a school where 95 per cent of pupils identify as low-income.

She redesigned their curriculum for the English department to make it culturally relevant to her pupils who are first-generation Americans, immigrants, or refugees from mostly Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South and Central America.

Since then, her English language learners have shown a 40 per cent increase in their reading.

Ms Thorpe spent a lot of time encouraging her pupils to apply for college and helped them with their applications and accessing fully-funded scholarships. She helped her senior pupils in 2018-2019 win more than $6.7 million in scholarships to 11 colleges, with most of them not having to pay tuition.

She plans to use the prize money to give less well-off pupils a opportunity of receiving a third level education.

"Every person deserves the right to an education and I want to be that person who champions that for them. I plan to use the money to help students worldwide access higher education," she said.

"Students are the reason I'm here, so I plan to use that to elevate them and create a better future for them. them and create a better future for them."

The award is in partnership with Unesco and the winner was announced at a virtual ceremony at the Unesco headquarters in Paris on Wednesday night.

Jeremiah Thoronka, a 21-year-old 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 Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2021. He is the first winner of this new $100,000 sister award to the Global Teacher Prize.

He was selected from more than 3,500 nominations and applications from 94 countries.

Mr Thoronka grew up with his mother in a slum camp for displaced people on the outskirts of the capital Freetown, having to burn charcoal and wood for lighting and heating. He wished to work in climate advocacy.

At the age of 17, when studying at the African Leadership University in Rwanda, he launched a start-up called Optim Energy that transforms vibrations from vehicles and pedestrian footfall on roads into an electric current.

Actor Hugh Jackman, who announced the winner of theChegg.org Global Student Prize, said: “Students everywhere are fighting for their very future. They are part of a generation that are on the frontline of the greatest challenges of our time – from climate change to global inequality. So, we must listen to their voices and shine a light on their stories."

The Global Teacher Prize is an annual award by the Varkey Foundation to an educator who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

French actress Isabelle Hupert announced this year's winner.

The Varkey Foundation is a global charity set up by entrepreneur Sunny Varkey, who is based in Dubai.

Mr Varkey said: “Congratulations to Keishia for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2021 and Jeremiah for becoming the first ever winner of the Chegg.org Global Student Prize. Their incredible stories show the vital role education plays in tackling the great challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Stefania Giannini, assistant director-general for education at Unesco, said: “Inspirational teachers and extraordinary students alike deserve recognition for their commitment to education amid the learning crisis we see today. Now more than ever, we must honor and support our teachers and students as they look to rebuild a better world in the wake of Covid.”

Last year, the Varkey Foundation launched the Global Student Prize, a student equivalent of the annual $1 million teacher prize.

The award will highlight the work of exceptional pupils and students making an impact on learning and the world.

It is open to all pupils aged 16 and above, and college students enrolled in an academic institution or training programme. Part-time students, as well as students enrolled in online courses, can also apply.

Last year, Ranjitsinh Disale of India was named the winner of the Global Teacher Prize for his work in improving the educational outcomes of young girls in remote schools.

Mr Disale shared half of the prize money with nine other finalists.

Updated: November 11th 2021, 2:04 PM
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