Peter Mokaya Tabichi is a mathematics and physics teacher at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani village in Kenya’s Nakuru County. He is the recipient of the 2019 Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. The award comes with a US$1 million prize (£760,000), which will be paid over 10 years.
The prize was set up to shine a light on teaching in an age where there is a severe global teacher shortage and poor countries will take up to 100 years to close the learning gap with the developed world. “By unearthing thousands of stories of heroes that have transformed young people’s lives, the prize hopes to bring to life the exceptional work of millions of teachers all over the world,” Varkey Foundation said in a statement.
The foundation also awards practices that help children become global citizens, “providing them with a values-based education that equips them for a world where they will potentially live, work and socialise with people from many different nationalities, cultures and religions.”
According to Quartz.com, the event celebrates teachers, who often work with little recognition and poor pay in severely resource-constrained environments.
According to the BBC, Tabichi, a Franciscan friar, gives away a large portion of his salary in support of his students. He said there are “challenges because of a lack of facilities” at his school, including overcrowding, insufficient books and too few teachers.
Classes meant to have 35 to 40 pupils are taught in groups of 70 or 80. Many of the pupils are orphaned or disadvantaged and walk more than six kilometres daily on bad roads to reach the school. Despite these seemingly insurmountable odds Tabichi’s pupils have been successful in national and international science competitions, including an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK.
Tabichi has also done a lot of outreach work to persuade the local community to recognise the value of education, visiting families whose children are at risk of dropping out of school.
The Kenyan Franciscan friar becomes the fifth winner overall of the global prize but only the first African winner, following an American, a Brit, a Palestinian and a Canadian.
He beat other commendable contenders in this year’s top 10 finalists, including Andrew Moffat, a Birmingham head teacher at the centre of a row with parents about lessons on LGBTQI+ rights.
Reflecting on his win at the ceremony, Tabichi said, “As a teacher working on the front line I have seen the promise of its young people – their curiosity, talent, their intelligence, their belief… Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will one day be famous in every corner of the world. And girls will be a huge part of this story.”
Adding an optimistic foreshadowing of the immediate future, he said, “It is morning in Africa. The skies are clear. The day is young and there is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time.”
Reaction to Tabichi’s win
Tabichi’s achievement has garnered support and praise from all over the world. Some notable ones include a congratulatory message from Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who said, “Peter, your story is the story of Africa, a young continent bursting with talent. Your students have shown that they can compete amongst the best in the world in science, technology and all fields of human endeavour.”
“Your students have shown that they can compete amongst the best in the world in science, technology and all fields of human endeavour.” – Uhuru Kenyatta
The founder of the prize, Sunny Varkey, is quoted as saying that he hopes Tabichi’s story “will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over Kenya and throughout the world every day”.
“The thousands of nominations and applications we received from every corner of the planet is testimony to the achievements of teachers and the enormous impact they have on all of our lives,” Varkey said.