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Mokolwane Masweneng, an English teacher at Dithothwaneng Senior Secondary School, Mphanama, Limpopo.

People 'n' Issues

SA teacher duo makes global shortlist

The top 50 shortlist has been announced for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023.

The top 50 shortlist has been announced for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023.

Two South African teachers have been included in the top 50 shortlist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023, organised in collaboration with UNESCO and in strategic partnership with Dubai Cares, a UAE-based global philanthropic organisation. 

Mokolwane Masweneng, an English teacher at Dithothwaneng Senior Secondary School, Mphanama, Limpopo, and Mariette Wheeler, a science teacher at Protea Heights Academy in Cape Town, South Africa, were selected from over 7,000 nominations and applications from 130 countries. 

Now in its eighth year, the US$1-million Global Teacher Prize is the largest prize of its kind. 

It was set up to recognise 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. 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.

Mokolwane Masweneng, an English teacher in rural South Africa, has dedicated himself to promoting education, particularly for girls, in his community. Despite facing financial challenges, he started a free tutoring programme that has since helped many students become qualified professionals. Mokolwane actively challenges cultural norms that hinder female education, addressing issues like school dropouts due to teenage pregnancy and lack of sanitary products. 

He encourages girls to participate in activities traditionally dominated by boys, fostering gender equality. Through technology and international connections, he brings diverse learning experiences to his students, and he has become an advocate for integrating technology in education. Additionally, he has initiated greening projects to combat hunger and poverty in rural areas.

Although Mariette Wheeler first trained as a biological scientist, her career has enabled her to combine her two main passions – biological research and teaching. Mariette’s teaching approach emphasises the simplest possible explanation of material: learners explain work to each other in small peer groups, have class debates, participate in charades-like class competitions, and use apps to learn difficult scientific terms. 

Outside the classroom, Mariette makes monthly record broadcasts on marine life for a local radio station, listened to by around 400,000 people. In 2021, she was named National Best Teacher and represented South Africa at the virtual UNESCO celebration of World Teacher’s Day. If Mariette wins the Global Teacher Prize, she will use the funds to set up a medical centre focusing on teenagers; increase her church’s efforts in sustainable community building; set up a mobile science equipment unit that can travel between schools; and create a dedicated marine sciences venue.

Dubai Cares’ long-standing support for the Global Teacher Prize stems from its belief that an investment in teachers is an investment in human development. Through its Framework for Global Education Transformation, Dubai Cares says, it is committed to elevating the role of educators as coaches, mentors and facilitators as well as positioning them as “Human Experience Teachers” who can nurture students and empower them with the values, skills, knowledge and experiences they need to face the complexities and challenges of the future.  

Applications and nominations for this year’s Global Teacher Prize opened on 6 May 2023 and closed on 25 June 2023. 

The prize is open to working teachers who teach children that are in compulsory schooling or are between the ages of five and eighteen. Teachers who teach children age 4+ in an Early Years government-recognised curriculum are also eligible, as are teachers who teach on a part-time basis, and teachers of online courses.

Teachers must spend at least 10 hours per week teaching and plan to remain in the profession for the next 5 years.  It is open to teachers in every kind of school and, subject to local laws, in every country in the world. 

Teachers applying for the Global Teacher Prize are assessed on teaching practices, how they innovate to address local challenges, achieve demonstrable learning outcomes, impact the community beyond the classroom, help children become global citizens, improve the teaching profession and gain recognition from external bodies.

The prize will now be narrowed down to top 10 finalists, to be announced later in the year, helping to raise the bar of respect for the teaching profession. The winner will be chosen from the top 10 finalists by the Global Teacher Prize Academy made up of prominent individuals and will be announced later this year.

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