Canadian teacher wins $1 million Global Teacher Prize

Canadian teacher wins $1 million Global Teacher Prize
Canadian teacher wins $1 million Global Teacher Prize
Published: 19 March 2017 - 6:35 p.m.
By: Staff Writer
Maggi MacDonnell, a teacher from Salluit, a remote Inuit village in the Canadian Arctic, was named the winner of the US$1 million Global Teacher Prize.

The annual prize is an initiative of the Varkey Foundation.

The prize was presented to McDonnell by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

The announcement was made on the final day of the Global Education & Skills Forum, which was held at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai from March 18-19.

Speaking on stage after being presented the award, MacDonnell said: "We matter; teachers matter.

"The nomination process created a means for more than 20,000 teachers to feel valued and revitalized and to have their professional commitment validated.

After completing her Master's degree Maggie MacDonnell sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada and for the last six years has been a teacher in the Canadian Arctic. In winter temperatures are minus 25C. There were six suicides in 2015, all affecting young males between the ages of 18 and 25.

Due to the harsh conditions there are very high rates of teacher turnover which is a significant barrier to education in the Arctic. Many teachers leave their post midway through the year, and many apply for stress leave.

Moreover, there are tremendous gender issues in the Inuit region of Nunavik where teenage pregnancies are common and gender roles often burden young girls with large domestic duties. Also, in areas of high deprivation, isolation and limited resources, teenagers often turn to drinking and smoking, and even drugs and self-harm, as forms of escape and release.

MacDonnell's approach has been about turning students from "problems" to "solutions". She created a life skills programme specifically for girls, which has seen a 500% improvement in girls' registration.

She has also dramatically improved school attendance by getting her students involved in running a community kitchen, attending suicide prevention training and hiking through national parks to understand environmental stewardship. Maggie also established a fitness centre that has become a hub for youth and adults in the local community. It is relieving stress, helping young people grow stronger physically and mentally and bringing the whole community together in a lasting way.

In a special video message broadcast after the announcement, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said: "Maggie MacDonnell on behalf of all Canadians from one teacher to another - congratulations on winning the Global Teacher Prize 2017.

"You chose to teach at the Ikusik school in Salluit, a remote village in the Canadian Arctic. There are no roads to Salluit it is only accessible by air and it gets cold, really cold. Minus twenty this time of year.

"I'd like to say thank you to every teacher out there. Teachers owe responsibilities to many people to students, to parents, to the community, the school board. But in the end, as all great teachers know they are ultimately responsible to something far greater. They are responsible to the future and for the world that will be shaped by the children they teach".

Varkey Foundation founder Sunny Varkey added: "I want to congratulate Maggie MacDonnell for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2017 from such a huge number of talented and dedicated teachers. I hope her story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world every day."

Now in its third year, the US $1 million award is the largest prize of its kind, and was set up to recognize one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.

To learn more about Maggie MacDonnell, read the full interview in the April issue of Education Journal Middle East

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