KUALA LUMPUR: Canadian school teacher Maggie MacDonnell, recognised for her work in rural Salluit, Quebec has been named the winner of the US$1 million (RM4.4 million) Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2017.
She received the prestigious award from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum at The Atlantis, in Dubai on Sunday.
Her name was announced by French astronaut Thomas Pasquet in a video message from the International Space Station.
In her speech, after receiving the award, MacDonnell expressed her gratitude to Sheikh Mohammed and Varkey Foundation founder Sunny Varkey “for creating an incredible breath-taking global platform that celebrates teachers who are often humble in nature.”
“We matter, teachers matter,” she said.
“I believe so much in the power of human connection and the greatest gift I will take away from Dubai is the gift of friendships I have made with this spectacular group of teachers I share the stage with,” she said in a speech after receiving the award.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a video message, congratulated MacDonnell on her win and for her works in helping her students build a stronger future.
“Teachers owe the responsibility to many people, but in the end, as all great teachers know they are ultimately responsible for something far greater.
“They are responsible for the future and for the world that will be shaped by the children that they teach. I’m sure Maggie would be the first to say that the Global Teacher award prize is a tribute to all teachers wherever they are.
“So to our winner, our ten finalists and to every dedicated teacher around the world, thank you,” he said.
Sheikh Mohammed on Twitter said: “It was a pleasure to award Canadian Maggie MacDonnell the US$1m Global Teacher Prize, for her excellence serving the noblest of professions
“Recognising teachers’ efforts aims to honour the work of these change makers. Supporting education means advancing knowledge in all fields,” he said.
The other finalists of the Global Teacher Prize were Salima Begum (Pakistan), David Calle (Spain), Raymond Chambers (the United Kingdom), Wemerson da Silva Nogueira (Brazil), Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahromi (Germany), Tracy-Ann Hall (Jamaica), Ken Silburn (Australia), Michael Wamaya (Kenya) and Boya Yang (China).
The Global Teacher Prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed.
Remote village reachable by air
MacDonnell has been teaching in a remote village called Salluit, nestled in the Canadian Arctic for six years.
According to her biography, this is home to the second northernmost Inuit community in Quebec, with a population of just over 1,300, can only be reached by air. In winter temperatures are minus 25C.
Global Teacher Prize, in a statement, said McDonnell has "made an outstanding contribution to the lives of her students and everyone in Salluit."
Staff turnover was high, with many leaving throughout the school year, or applying for stress leave, however MacDonnell continued teaching in the remote area.
In Salluit alone there were six suicides in 2015, all among men aged 18 to 25. Teenagers, in the face of deprivation and isolation, frequently turn to drink, drugs and self-harm.
The Inuit region of Nunavik has widespread and deeply entrenched gender issues. Teenage pregnancy is common, levels of sexual abuse are high, and gender expectations see young girls burdened with domestic duties.
MacDonnell’s whole approach in tackling the situation has been about turning students from “problems” to “solutions” through initiatives such as “acts of kindness” which has dramatically improved school attendance.
Specific examples of her initiatives include her students running a community kitchen, attending suicide prevention training and partnering with the day care centre.
MacDonnell has also created a life skills programme specifically for girls to combat the complex gender issues in the community: teenage pregnancies are common, high levels of sexual abuse exist, and gender roles often burden young girls with domestic duties.
With the winning prize, she aims to establish a non-profit to support youth engagement, culture preservation and global citizenship.
Third year of the prize
Widely referred to as the Nobel Prize for teaching, the Global Teacher Prize is the largest of its kind and is given to one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.
The prize serves to underline the importance of educators and the fact that, throughout the world, their efforts deserve to be recognised and celebrated. It seeks to acknowledge the impacts of the very best teachers – not only on their students but on the communities around them.
This is the third year of the prize. In its inaugural year, it was won by Nancie Atwell, a teacher from the United States. Last year, Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub bagged the award.
A teacher from Sabah, Mohd Sirhajwan Idek, 29, of Keningau Vocational College made the country proud by being the only Malaysian to have made it to the Top 50 of the prestigious award.
In 2015, Madenjit Singh, a teacher with the Science of Life Studies 24/7 organisation, under the Grassroots Development Institute, in Malaysia was shortlisted as a Top 10 finalist. Also nominated that year was Yasmin Noorul Amin of La Salle Petaling Jaya.
Last year, Noorjahan Sultan of SK Indera Mahkota Utama in Kuantan, Pahang, and Vanesri Kasi of SJK (T) Jalan Khalidi in Muar, Johor made it to the Top 50.