Dubai, March 19: A British school teacher has won a USD 1 million-Global Teacher Prize instituted by an Indian-origin entrepreneur's foundation in the UAE to honour an exceptional teacher who has made a significant contribution to the profession.
Andria Zafirakou, 39, who teaches art and textiles in a Brent secondary school, was selected at the Global Education and Skills Forum, organised by the Varkey Foundation which is run by Kerala-born education philanthropist Sunny Varkey, 60.
Zafirakou became the first winner from the UK, beating teachers from more than 170 countries. The prize was handed over yesterday by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the foundation said in a statement.
Zafirakou has inspired her ethnically diverse students at the Alperton Community School, where 130 languages are spoken, to rapidly progress through sports, music and other activities during their five to seven years at the school, a point recognised by the UK national inspection team, the statement said.
Zafirakou, who is of Greek origin, said: "Whatever is missing from the lives of the school's pupils, or causing them pain, our school is there for them. Our schools must be safe havens". Zafirakou said art provides "a sanctuary" for her pupils.
She said that students from "stable homes" also chose to come to the school because of its support and guidance for all students. To dream, aspire, learn and succeed was "a right that nobody can take away from you," she said.
Among those who attended the event were Al Gore, former US vice-president; Nicholas Sarkozy, former president of France; Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia and Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, the report said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May congratulated Zafirakou in a video message. "Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity, and a generous heart. These are the qualities that you share with your students everyday.
So thank you for all you have done and continue to do. I would also like to extend a huge thank you to His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. for his support of the teaching profession and patronage of this prize," May said.
Varkey's GEMS Education company has more than 250 schools around the world.