Canadian teacher wins US$1 million annual education prize
DUBAI // A Canadian teacher has been awarded US$1 million (Dh3.67m) for her work with indigenous communities at a ceremony in Dubai.
Maggie MacDonnell, from Ikusik School in Salluit, northern Quebec, was given the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize for her role in improving school attendance rates and girls’ registration at the school, located in the Inuit region of Nunavik.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, presented Ms MacDonnell with the award on the final day of the Global Education and Skills Forum at the Atlantis, The Palm hotel.
“I would like to invite my students to share this award, as I have won this not for them but with them,” Ms MacDonnell said.
Ms MacDonnell has taught in the Canadian Arctic for six years. Winter temperatures are as low as -25ºC and schools in remote areas there face high rates of teacher turnover, as well as drug abuse, self-harm and teenage pregnancy among pupils.
Aiming to turn the problems into solutions, Ms MacDonnell created a life-skills programme for girls that helped the school achieve 500 per cent improvement in girls registration. She dramatically improved attendance rates by getting pupils involved in running a community kitchen, attending suicide prevention training and hiking through national parks.
She has also been a temporary foster parent to children in the area, including some of her own pupils.
In a video message broadcast at the ceremony, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau congratulated Ms MacDonnell “on behalf of all Canadians, from one teacher to another”.
“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,” he said.
“I would like to say thank you to every teacher out there. Teachers owe responsibilities to many people – to students, to parents, to the community and 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
The Global Teacher Prize was set up to recognise an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.
Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation and of GEMS Education, said he hoped Ms MacDonnell’s 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.”