Peter Tabichi, a maths and science teacher at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani Village, Nakuru, Kenya, was recently named the winner at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) on 24 March this year.
Now in its fifth year, the Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award that is the largest of its kind in the world. It aims to recognise one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession, while also highlighting the important role teachers play in society. Finalists were selected from over 10,000 nominations and applications from 179 countries, and the 10 finalists were invited to Dubai for the award ceremony at the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) on Sunday 24 March, where this year’s winner, Peter Tabichi, was announced live on stage by Hollywood A-lister Hugh Jackman during a red-carpet gala event.
Peter says that the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize gives teachers the recognition they deserve and inspires them to do the best they can. “Even when I was nominated as a top 50 finalist, I could see a difference in how the teachers were working. It is a marvellous way to raise the status of the teaching profession.”
Peter is a maths and science teacher at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani Village, Nakuru, Kenya. The area is remote and prone to droughts every three or four years. The school is under resourced, has one computer, illequipped classrooms and no library — basic facilities that most schools would take for granted. One of many teachers in his family, Peter used to teach in a private school with all the classroom amenities that students and teachers require. Upon visiting Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School to give a talk, he decided he wanted to help the community by teaching there.
“I was touched by the challenges and the situation there. I said I should do something and train to work there,” says Peter. The school currently has 480 students, compared to 200 four years ago. “We have to accommodate 480 students but with the same resources we had for the original 200, so classrooms are crowded. We have a class ratio of 70 students to one teacher. As a teacher, you have to move around the class to see what each student is doing, which is hard to manage,” says Peter.
Most of his students also come from really poor families, who struggle to afford to feed their children breakfast, so students battle to concentrate at school because they are not getting enough meals at home. Peter started addressing this by teaching the students, their families, and surrounding communities how to grow drought-resistant crops. Peter, a Franciscan Brother devoted to his religion, wants to dedicate himself whole-heartedly to helping others. He donates 80% of his salary to help his school, and he intends to do the same with his prize money.
He says: “I want Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School to become a model school for the other African countries. I want people to know that even a small school with these kinds of challenges, can rise and be great even with few resources.”
And rise Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School has. Peter has worked closely with his students and started a science club, encouraging his students to be innovative, allowing them to qualify for national competitions. His students are working on advances like generating an electric current from plant extracts and sewage waste, for which they won a prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry. His students also entered the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair 2018 where they showcased a device of their own design that enables blind and deaf people to measure objects — they won first place in the public schools category. The mathematical science team also qualified to participate at the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair 2019 which took place in Arizona, USA, in mid-May.
His care for his students goes beyond the classroom and academia. In 2007, tribalism and ethnic rivalry resulted in a massacre in Nakuru. Peter started a peace club at the school to unite the seven different tribes that are represented at the school. Students are given a chance to conduct debates and they do activities such as tree planting which brings them together. He says his win will mean a lot to everyone in his community. “It is going to show them that they have great potential, and if only they can discover that potential, they can do a lot.”
Looking ahead, Peter would like to leverage his win to encourage more teachers in their professions. “When I see progress happening in society, it makes me happy. I will use this experience to inspire other teachers to work hard and have passion in what they are doing. I want them to know that teaching is a noble profession.” He adds that he will also come up with more initiatives and projects to raise the status of teaching and education in general.