Maharashtra zilla parishad educator first in India to win $1-million teacher prize

It is a proud moment for the zilla parishad schools in Maharashtra, as one of their educators, 31-year-old Ranjitsinh Disale, has become the first teacher from India to win the prestigious $1-million Global Teacher Prize for innovation in teaching. The award is bestowed by London-based Varkey Foundation and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). The winners were announced by actor-writer Stephen Fry in an online ceremony from the Natural History Museum, London, on Thursday.

Disale, a teacher at the zilla parishad school in Solapur’s Paritewadi, was among the 12,000 educators from 140 countries, who had been nominated for the prize. The prize was set up to recognise one exceptional teacher making an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.

Disale will donate 50% of his prize money to the other finalists who were nominated for the award, so that children across the globe get quality education.

“In his winning speech, Mr Disale made the extraordinary announcement that he will share half the prize money with his fellow Top 10 finalists, resulting in the other nine finalists receiving just over US $55,000 each. This is the first time in the Global Teacher Prize’s six-year history that the overall winner has shared the prize money with the other finalists,” stated the official release issued by Varkey Foundation on Thursday. The foundation, which has promoted the prize since 2014, said Disale has “transformed the life chances of girls” at the zilla parishad primary school.

Disale’s journey of adopting technology in education started in 2009, when he entered the zilla parishad school which had very few students enrolled. Dropouts owing to child marriages, poor learning outcomes and child labour were common. However, he did not give up and decided to bring about a change. Gradually, he realised that students had to be brought to school by making learning more interesting and teaching beyond textbooks.

He then decided to use technology to better the learning experience for his students, but the school only had one laptop. While trying to look for solutions online, he found a very easy option – (quick response) QR codes. In the years to come, he created QR codes and pasted them on the existing textbooks. These codes could be scanned with the help of mobile phones and additional resources on the topics would pop up.

In 2015, the Maharashtra government had adopted Disale’s idea and made QR codes available in Balbharti textbooks. Subsequently in 2018, the then Union Human Resource Development minister Prakash Javadekar had announced that all National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks will have embedded QR codes.

“I am happy that my work towards achieving bettering learning outcomes with the help of innovative methods such as QR codes in textbooks has been recognised by the stalwarts in education across the globe,” said an elated Disale.

From 2017, Disale has been working on a unique project. With an intention of nurturing friendship between students in India and Pakistan, he has been conducting online video sessions with students from both countries. Disale also wants to ensure that each year, at least 5,000 students from the war-afflicted countries of the world are recruited into a ‘Peace Army’.

“I would like to use the prize money for my project and to support innovation of teachers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the award ceremony also included a special recognition for one teacher – a Covid hero – who has gone above and beyond to keep young people learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. The $ 45,000 Covid Hero Award, supported by CVC Capital Partners, was given to UK Maths teacher Jamie Frost, whose free DrFrostMaths became a lifeline for students shut out of classrooms all around the world.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the “creativity and ingenuity” of the winners and added: “Although I’m speaking to you in difficult and sometimes heart-breaking circumstances, it’s right that we take time to recognise the enormous contribution and sacrifice of the world’s teachers during this pandemic”.

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