An educational hub takes shape

Samuel Isaiah.

THE Orang Asli community can look forward to an educational hub that also caters to their social welfare and well-being, if Samuel Isaiah has his way.

Although the English language teacher from SK Runchang, Pahang, did not win the recently concluded Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2020, he remains dedicated to turning the dream of building the educational hub, into reality.

And, thanks to India’s Ranjitsinh Disale, who won the US$1mil (RM4.3mil) prize, Samuel – who is only the second Malaysian to be in the Top 10 list for the Global Teacher Prize since its inception in 2014 – is a step closer to seeing his plan come into fruition.

Ranjitsinh Disale. Photo credit - Varkey Foundation.Ranjitsinh Disale. Photo credit - Varkey Foundation.

Disale, who was selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world, announced that he would share half his winnings with the other nine finalists, resulting in them receiving just over US$55,000 (RM223,740) each.

“(By sharing) the money with the rest of the teachers, they too will have the chance to continue their work and (this way), we can reach out and (improve) the lives of as many students as we can, ” he said during the virtual ceremony broadcasted from the Natural History Museum in London on Dec 4.

Speaking to StarEdu, Samuel said he would work out a strategy on how the contribution from Disale could be used to benefit his students here.

“I will have to evaluate the circumstances and see if it will be feasible to carry out my plans.

“I might have to scale it down, or perhaps come up with an all new strategy (of helping the Orang Asli), ” he shared.

The hub will work with one Orang Asli community at a time where they will be central in the decision-making process.

In a statement he posted on his Facebook page, Samuel expressed his gratitude to his loved ones, the Education Ministry and Malaysians.

“I am humbled and honoured to be one of the Top 10 finalists.

“I believe this competition has showcased my professional practise as a teacher and leader, my ability to connect and build a relationship with the children and community, and the amazing capabilities of my children.”

Thanking Disale for sharing his prize money, Samuel described it as a “huge gesture that shows the world what an exemplary and selfless individual Ranjit is”.

There could be no better role model for teachers than Disale, he said, adding that in a year disrupted by the global Covid-19 pandemic, Disale is a symbol of the incredible work teachers do.

Disale, a primary school teacher whose pupils were mostly girls from tribal communities, translated textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue and embedded them with unique QR codes to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments.

By analysing their reflections, he changed the content, activities and assignments in the QR coded textbooks to create a personalised learning experience for each student. He went on to upgrade the QR Coded Textbooks with immersive reader and Flipgrid tools to aid girls with special needs.

The impact of Disale’s interventions has been extraordinary: there are now no teenage marriages in the village and 100% attendance by girls at the Zilla Parishad Primary School. The school was also recently awarded the best school in the district with 85% of his students achieving A grades in annual exams.

Congratulating Disale, Global Teacher Prize founder Sunny Varkey said young people must be equipped with an education that will help them build a better tomorrow and that always starts by listening to teachers.

“Give all teachers a voice. There is not a moment to lose as it will fall on young people to find solutions to problems that their parents and grandparents have lacked the will to solve, including climate change, conflict and global pandemics.”

Unesco assistant director general for education Stefania Giannini said the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to education systems around the world but the learning crisis must not turn into a learning catastrophe and it is the contribution of teachers during these difficult times that makes the difference.

The Other Top 10 Finalists

Unesco is a partner of the Global Teacher Prize.Jamie Frost (United Kingdom)

Frost, who created a ground-breaking website called DrFrostMaths for Mathematics tuition, won the Global Teacher Prize Covid Hero Award – a first of its kind. The website provides an online learning platform, teaching resources, videos and a bank of exam questions for students to practise on for free. Frost had even coded and developed a virtual white board software and tools to help teachers monitor students’ progress in real time. When the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools all over the world, DrFrostMaths became a lifeline for students shut out of classrooms. Within a week, the site’s page views had jumped from 0.4 million to 1.3 million per day.

Olasunkanmi Opeifa (Nigeria)

Opeifa teaches children from low-income families who cannot afford textbooks or the heavily subsidised school fees. He grappled with teaching English to children who had poor writing skills and reading disabilities before coming up with a solution to use edutainment, fun-based learning, online videos and the Flip Classroom Model in his teaching and learning sessions. He also published a book on learning English so he could reach out to students beyond his community, and he introduced free weekend tutorials to cover the syllabus. Through this method, the school’s exam results improved drastically.

Mokhudu Machaba (South Africa)Machaba worked in various jobs to take care of her family before landing a job as a teacher. Facing challenges in her own road towards obtaining an education, she wanted to ensure her students had access to technology to improve their learning. She started by using a single mobile phone for Internet access in class, and then went on to obtain laptops from Microsoft and the South African government. Machaba has introduced her students to Coding Week by using Minecraft. Her students have also started communicating with learners from other countries through the Microsoft Educator Platform and Mystery Skype. She hopes to develop a centre where young people can learn entrepreneurial skills and robotics.

Leah Juelke (US)The majority of Juelke’s high school students in North Dakota are refugees whose formal education was interrupted and who had little to no English fluency. She started a project called the “Journey to America” which began as a way to help students write, work through their traumas and teach the community about diversity. The project went on to get published in the form of a book with refugee and immigrant stories and poems. She aims to launch a foundation that gives back to hard-working students by awarding scholarships to those aspiring to be teachers.

Jeong-hyun Yun (South Korea)For the past 28 years, Yun has been a technical high school teacher to students with poor basic education. As the director of the automobile department at his school, Yun expanded the range of vocational qualifications that students can take, taught courses on welding, automobile maintenance, construction, Computer Aided Design and 3D scanning. He also created job clubs centred on gaining licenses for agricultural machine maintenance, forklift and excavator use, and bulldozer and crane operation – as well as courses for PowerPoint, Excel and Photoshop.

He aspires to supplement the local children’s centre with computers and supporting other after-school activities in other regional farming and fishing villages. He also wants to create a fund for students who face financial difficulty.

Ha Anh Phuong (Vietnam)Phuong felt that becoming an English language teacher was a good way to improve people’s lives. Over 90% of her high school students are ethnic minorities who aren’t proficient in the English language.

She sought to overcome the problem by employing the borderless classroom model, where she connects her students with schools across the world through Skype. Her innovations significantly improved student outcomes where all of her students passed their final English exam in the previous school year. She is a member of an educational community that gathers global teachers to design lessons and engage in weekly professional development. She wants to support sustainable development school projects that are in need of financial assistance, donate a computer lab to her school to provide better opportunities for students to access global knowledge and create a free English language learning app.

Doani Emanuela Bertan (Brazil)Bertan, whose mother inspired her to become a teacher, took a course to study the Brazilian sign language to educate hearing impaired students.

As her school grappled with high dropout rates, she and her colleagues looked for new strategies to optimise learning.

Bertan also began doing video calls with them to answer their questions and concerns in regard to their classroom lessons.

The online session grew into fully-fledged bilingual video classes, where she teaches the Portuguese sign language as well. She maximised her usage of technology as a tool for flexible learning. This allowed for new educational experiences to take place.

Carlo Mazzone (Italy)The digital animator, who guides his school’s implementation of the government’s National Digital Plan, created teaching materials based on his extensive experience in his subject area.

The computer science graduate and former IT consultant keeps himself updated with industry goings-on to benefit his students.

To better organise his teaching and feedback, Mazzone set up e-learning platforms to manage and streamline his students’ work. Lessons are centred around the principle of “vivariumware”, which is nursery training material.

He aims to expand his student’s award-winning company which helps farmers coordinate supply, guarantee livestock traceability and reduce time costs. He also plans to help his students who face social and economic obstacles obtain academic achievement.


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