Palestinian teacher takes top prize in $1m competition

High school teacher Hanan Al Hroub wins praise for her work with traumatised youth, sees off competition from Finland, Kenya and Japan

Palestinian high school teacher Hanan Al Hroub has won this year’s $1m Global Teacher Prize for her novel approach to reducing violent behaviour of traumatised school children and helping them to learn.

Now in its second year, the prize – awarded by the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation – aims to shine a light on exceptional teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to the profession. Al Hroub came first out of 10 semi-finalists from as far afield as Finland, Kenya and Japan.

"I accept this as a win for all teachers and Palestinian teachers in particular"

“I am proud to be a Palestinian female teacher standing on this stage. I accept this as a win for all teachers in general and Palestinian teachers in particular,” Al Hroub said yesterday at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai.

“We, as teachers, can build the values and morals of young minds to ensure a fair world, a more beautiful world and a more free world.”

Al Hroub teaches at Samiha Khalil High School for Girls, Al-Bireh in Palestine. Growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem, her own children’s experience of violence and conflict led her to develop ways to rebuild students’ trust and respect through play to increase academic performance.

Speaking by video broadcast, Pope Francis congratulated the winner. “I would like to congratulate the teacher Hanan Al Hroub for winning this prestigious prize due to the importance that she gave to the ‘playing’ part in the education of the children,” he said. “A child has the right to play. Part of education is to teach children how to play because you learn how to be social through games as well as learn the joy of life.”

"Putting every child back in the classroom is our biggest challenge"

Also at the global education event, Lebanon’s minister for education Bou Saab issued a stark warning that the international community is making too little progress on getting Syrian refugee children back into school.

Lebanon is home to 1.5 million Syrian refugees, including 450,000 children. The host government’s initiative, Reach All Children with Education (RACE), has already ensured some 300,000 refugee students are back in classrooms.

Still, there is a long way to go to reach the scheme’s goal of getting all 450,000 children in school by 2017, said Saab. He said funds are urgently needed to cover the $550 per year, operating double shifts, which it costs to educate one Syrian refugee child.

“When you miss an academic year for these children, we make it even longer for the children to return to school, risking a lost generation,” Saab told delegates. “Putting every child in the classroom is our biggest challenge. If you do not do so, it will open doors to many issues including child labour and abuse.”