“Teachers are the real change-makers who are changing the lives of their students with a mixture of chalk and challenges,” says Ranjitsinh Disale, the Indian village schoolteacher who has been named the winner of the $1-million Global Teacher Prize 2020.
The 32-year-old pioneering teacher from the village of Paritewadi in Solapur district of Maharashtra in western India was selected in the top 10 from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries. He had already pledged that if he did win the big prize, he would like to share 50 per cent of it with his nine fellow finalists.
He said: “They [teachers] always believe in giving and sharing. And, therefore, I am very pleased to announce that I will share 50 per cent of the prize money equally among my fellow Top 10 finalists to support their incredible work. I believe, together, we can change this world because sharing is growing.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed education and the communities it serves in a multitude of ways. But in this hard time, teachers are giving their best to make sure every student has access to their birthright of a good education.”
When Disale arrived at the Zilla Parishad Primary School at Paritewadi in Solapur in 2009, it was a dilapidated building, sandwiched between a cattleshed and a storeroom. He took on the task of turning things around and ensuring the textbooks were available in the local language for the pupils and not only translated the class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue but also embedded them with unique QR codes to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments. The impact of his interventions has been that there are now no reported teenage marriages in the village and 100 per cent attendance of girls at the school.
Disale’s school went on to become the first in the state of Maharashtra to introduce QR codes and after a successful pilot scheme, the state ministry announced in 2017 that they would introduce QR coded textbooks for all grades – resulting in a .
The teacher is equally passionate about building peace between young people across conflict zones and through a "Let’s Cross the Borders" project, he connects young people from India and Pakistan, Palestine and Israel, Iraq and Iran, and the US and North Korea. Over a six-week programme, students are matched with a peace buddy from other countries with whom they closely interact. So far, Disale has initiated an incredible 19,000 students from eight countries into this programme.
Besides, with the use of the Microsoft Educator Community platform, the enterprising teacher spends his weekends taking students from schools around the world with depleted resources on virtual field trips. He is well-known for demonstrating scientific experiments from the science lab he has built in his home.
His generous gesture of sharing his prize money means the other finalists will receive just over USD 55,000 each.
“By sharing the prize money you teach the world the importance of giving,” said Indian education philanthropist Sunny Varkey, the founder of the prize presented by the Varkey Foundation since 2014.
“I now encourage you to use this platform to give all teachers a voice. There is not a moment to lose as it will fall on young people to find solutions to problems that their parents and grandparents have lacked the will to solve, including climate change, conflict and global pandemics,” he said.
The winner’s announcement was made at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London by British actor-broadcaster Stephen Fry on December 3.
"Teachers like Ranjitsinh will stop climate change and build more peaceful and just societies. Teachers like Ranjitsinh will eliminate inequalities and drive forward economic growth. Teachers like Ranjitsinh will save our future," said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director General for Education at UNESCO, one of the partners of the initiative.