“Teachers matter. Every day, in classrooms around the world, teachers do amazing things. But too often, their work goes unrecognized and unrewarded. We believe that teachers are critical to our global future.” – Varkey Foundation
Peter Tabichi, a teacher from a small village in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya, became the first African to win the prestigious Global Teacher Prize. The competition receives tens of thousands of entries and nominations from all corners of the globe and is considered the “Nobel Prize in Teaching”. Peter was selected out of 10,000 teachers from 179 countries.
However, this isn’t just a simple story of how a humble teacher from a tiny town in Africa managed to capture the world’s attention and be named the best educator in the world; it is a story about generosity, grace, and a fierce dedication that transformed a community and inspired the world.
The story of how Kenya beat the world
Peter Tabichi is a math and science teacher at Keriko Secondary School in Pwani, a remote village in Nakuru where poverty and drought are widespread. The school currently has one computer, poor internet access, no library, and a teacher-student ratio of 1:58. However, despite the limited resources, Peter left his job at a private school to join Keriko and has managed to turn it into a place where young people can find direction and the encouragement they need to believe a brighter future is possible despite the hardships people in rural Kenya face.
Many of his students have to walk four miles along dusty roads to get to school, come from tough backgrounds, and live in a community plagued by social issues such as teen pregnancy and substance abuse. Yet, his ability to engage them during lessons and his determination to give them a chance to learn has paid off tremendously.
He introduced a Talent Nurturing Club and expanded the school’s Science Club and often travels to internet cafes to download resources for lessons when the internet connection is unreliable. He also tutors kids on weekends and encourages the local community to recognize the value in education by visiting families whose children are at risk of dropping out of school or who expect their daughters to get married at an early age.
“Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will be one day famous in every corner of the world. And girls will be a huge part of this story.”
Science is the way to go for their futures
Under his mentorship, Keriko Secondary School emerged victorious as the best public school in the country at the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair in 2018 for designing a device that enables blind and deaf people to measure objects. The same year, his students won an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry for a project that generated energy from plants and qualified to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Arizona in May.
Enrolment at the school has also doubled over three years, girls’ involvement has increased significantly, and many of his students have qualified for college and university.
For a school with limited resources and just one computer, this is an enormous achievement.
“I’m immensely proud of my students, we lack facilities that many schools take for granted. So as a teacher, I just want to have a positive impact not only on my country but on the whole of Africa.“
Transforming lives and the wider community
However, Peter’s kindness and generosity extends beyond the classroom. He has dedicated his life to helping others, with his main focus being to empower the community through education, sustainable agriculture, and peace building. He donates 80% of his salary to support local projects, other schools, and students who can’t afford books and uniforms, while also promoting peace between religious and ethnic groups, and helping address food security in the wider community.
“He is one extraordinary teacher. Eighty per cent of his salary goes to supporting others, not only from this school but also two other schools. He writes cheques to the school so that the money goes towards clearing fees for needy students. He deserved this more than anyone,” said Daniel Mwariri, the school principal.
The award saw Peter win the coveted title and a prize of $1 million. With the prize money, Peter wants to build a computer laboratory at Keriko Secondary School, sponsor students in need, create programs that will motivate fellow teachers, and establish an agricultural project that will benefit the local community.
“Every day in Africa we turn a new page and a new chapter. This prize does not recognize me but recognizes this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything.“
Teaching is a noble profession
The Global Teacher Prize was established in 2013 with the aim of raising the status of the profession and honoring teachers who are making remarkable contributions to their communities by nurturing their students’ abilities through music, technology, robotics and science. It celebrates the efforts of teachers around the world and recognizes the enormous impact they have on all of our lives. It is one of the most prestigious and coveted awards by teachers.
Sunny Varkey, the founder of the Global Teacher Prize, said he hopes Peter’s story will inspire people who are thinking about joining the teaching profession and shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over Kenya and throughout the world every day.
Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, and people like Peter Tabichi are proving just how true that is.