Global Teacher Prize winner: why I gave away half $1 million jackpot

Ranjitsinh Disale says he wants the 10 finalists to make the world a better place together

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The winner of this year's $1 million Global Teacher Prize says he gave away half his cash reward to his fellow finalists so they could help him "make the world a better place".

Ranjitsinh Disale was lauded for his decision to share the jackpot after claiming a prestigious accolade awarded every year to one teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

The 32-year-old Indian described his success as the biggest surprise of his life, but said his generous donation was already in the works just in case he was victorious.

It was a remarkable plan he had kept secret from even his own family.

"I wanted to share the money with the other finalists because they deserve recognition," Mr Disale told The National.

Ranjitsinh Disale teaching his pupils during a class trip. Courtesy: Ranjitsinh Disale
Ranjitsinh Disale teaching his pupils during a class trip. Courtesy: Ranjitsinh Disale

"I believe the world is my classroom and I want to reach every child in the world.

"Together we can make a difference. These teachers will help me to reach as many pupils as possible."

Mr Disale said the education sector faced many challenges around the world, such as poverty or people unwilling to educate girls.

He said a single teacher would not be able to solve all of these problems alone.

But, together, a group of the top 10 teachers in the world could make a difference.

"We can make the world a better place," he said.

By sharing the prize money, Mr Disale said he ensured all finalists won recognition.

The Global Teacher Prize is an annual award by the Varkey Foundation, a global charity set up by entrepreneur Sunny Varkey, who is based in Dubai.

More than 12,000 teachers from 140 countries were nominated for the prize this year, with the entrants whittled down to 10.

“My family was completely unaware of my decision to give away half the money. They only found out when they saw the papers the next morning," he said.

Although initially unaware of his gesture, his parents Parvati and Mahadeo Disale, and wife Nisha Disale supported him.

Mr Disale said Indian teachers were known for their sacrifices for their pupils and the teaching community.

"Winning the prize made me feel valued and understood as a teacher," he said.

"I feel extremely proud that I am the first Indian to win this award."

Of the prize money he will receive, Mr Disale will set aside a majority for a fund that will boost innovations by teachers and help them scale up their projects.

He will also use the money for his initiative, called Let’s Cross the Border.

He is working to establish a peace group of at least 50,000 pupils by 2030 from places that have been affected by conflict, such as India, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine.

Ranjitsinh Disale teaching at home during a virtual field trip. Courtesy: Ranjitsinh Disale
Ranjitsinh Disale teaching at home during a virtual field trip. Courtesy: Ranjitsinh Disale

Under the programme, pupils are paired with a peace buddy and work together to discuss solutions to regional conflicts.

For example, Indian pupils virtually connect with their counterparts in Pakistan for the six-week-long project.

Mr Disale did not always dream of being a teacher.

He joined a teaching programme by chance while waiting to sit for an examination to train as an electrical engineer.

"My father convinced me to join a teachers' training college," he said.

"Soon, I realised that teachers are the real change-makers and thought why don’t I change the lives of pupils and those who need me?"

Mr Disale joined Zilla Parishad Primary School at Paritewadi in Solapur as a new teaching graduate 12 years ago.

At the time, many teenage girls were married off when they were in high school.

He worked to create awareness and now such marriages have been stopped completely in the area.

Now, attendance of girls in classes has increased and their learning outcomes have improved.

Mr Disale learnt Kannada, a local language, to be able to interact with pupils and understand their concerns.

He created QR codes to allow pupils to access audio and video lectures by scanning the codes.

At the time, Mr Disale did not know that his efforts would be of such great use to his pupils while they learnt at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Disale wishes to join hands with governments and help them create solutions to the challenges faced by the education sector.