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Peter Tabichi - the world’s best teacher about the role of science in ending poverty

August 16, 2019
tags:#Peter Tabichi, #Kenya, #Nobel Prize for education, #Africa, ##TeacherPrize, ##TeachersMatter
by:Bob Koigi
Peter Tabichi, a science teacher in rural Kenya who won this year’s Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, (nicknamed the Nobel Prize for education), has dedicated his profession to provide space and mentorship to children from poor backgrounds.

In a school with limited resources like classrooms and textbooks, he donates up to 80% of his income to assist his needy students. In this interview with FairPlanet, he spoke about his passion for science as a vital lesson for Africa’s prosperity, his teaching approach that has seen his students trounce academic giants in science competitions and his new role where he will champion the cause of the more than 75 million children whose education is disrupted by conflicts and natural disasters globally.

FairPlanet: What does being named the world’s best teacher mean to you and your pursuit for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM, education especially for young people born into the most challenging circumstances?

Peter Tabichi: Winning the prize has given me a wonderful global platform and generated enormous interest from many people who are also invested in positive change. This is not so much a great moment for me but for my students, for all students and teachers in Africa who can share in this acclaim.

With this global platform I want to advocate for STEM education and work with other partners, both locally and internationally, to achieve this. I would like to become involved in STEM exchange programs with local and global institutions.

What would you say is the toughest thing about what you do?

It breaks my heart to see so many talented young people not able to realise their dreams and fulfil their potential due to various challenges such drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, lack of learning resources, shortage of food at home and violence. That is why I do my level best to help them develop their self-esteem through programmes such as the peace club, the Young Christian Society and the Talent/Nurturing club.

You were recently appointed as the first “Champion for Children in Conflicts and Crisis” for Education Cannot Wait Fund. What exactly does your role entail and what would you want to achieve with this position?

I have been given the responsibility of championing the cause of Education Cannot Wait and targeting 75 million children globally whose education is disrupted by conflicts and natural disasters. With travels to the world’s most crises-affected children and planned engagements at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly and other high-level events, I will help raise the urgency on the world stage to invest in the future of girls and boys left behind in crisis. It will be my great honour to help them ensure children whose lives have been blighted by war and catastrophe are given their birth right: a decent education

Where do want to see Africa’s STEM in the future?

STEM can play a leading role in unlocking Africa’s potential. Scientific discovery and innovation fuel progress, facilitate development and can tackle issues such as food insecurity, water shortage and climate change.

Africa has tremendous potential. I firmly believe that this is Africa’s time and that with the right education, we can ensure our rural communities will produce scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs whose names will be one day famous in every corner of the world. Girls will increasingly play an important part in this story and it’s going to require a huge shift to get there because of the 131 million girls around the world who currently don’t get the opportunity to go to school, many from Africa. In my experience students really want to study once they understand what it can offer them.

So there are many challenges indeed and life is hard, but as a teacher working on the front line, I have seen the promise of Africa’s young people – their curiosity, talent, their intelligence, their belief. Africa is a continent bursting with the promise that I see every day in my classroom. From my students I see raw talent and great creativity, I also see hard work, a determination to defy the odds, and be the best they can be. STEM will be of great help in Africa.

As a key player in Africa and global STEM space, do you think governments, private sector and the international community are doing enough to invest in this critical sector?

There is an effort/ attempt to promote STEM sector. But more work needs to be done in terms of investing in and creating more awareness about STEM, emphasising on its role in this century and researching more on how it can be practically implemented in schools with the focus of enhancing quality education. An assessment / follow up on its implementation should also be taken seriously. Everyone seems to be talking about STEM but I am not sure who is taking the leading role in ensuring that the objectives are achieved both locally and globally. We need to do more and talk less.

What have your students taught you in the many years you have interacted with them?

The fact that many students have varying needs, has taught me to be creative in using the best approaches while teaching them. They want to feel recognised, loved, appreciated and respected. They have taught me that for them to realise their dreams, you need to work with them closely with a lot of resilience, patience and dedication.

The school where you teach Mathematics and Physics in a remote rural Kenya has previously emerged winner in national science competitions beating the country’s academic giants. What does that mean to you as a teacher and what does this say about the education system?

It shows that teachers play an important role of unlocking the potential of young people. They are destiny enablers to the young people. Any young person is gifted and talented. They can do anything. They can be famous scientists, engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs. They can realise their dreams if well mentored. As educators, we need to believe in them. When I believed in the potential of my students, they were able to do great things despite the lack of resources and many challenges. We also need to teach them about the value system, since education is not only about academic success - we need to promote social-emotional skills and the culture of peace.

As the world’s best teacher, what is your message to the global community on the profession of teaching and how it should be treated?

Teaching is a special vocation, a deep responsibility, and a task of huge importance. It should be given its rightful place and made an attractive profession for our best students. For people in Africa and around the world, education is often the difference between success and failure. But we are now at a time in history where this is true, not just for individuals, but for our global society too. Today’s young people will have to tackle some huge challenges when they grow up – the fourth industrial revolution, environmental and ecological problems, climate change, political unrest, and a new global frontier with an ever-growing world population. Our most important task is to make sure our young people can meet these challenges – whatever form they take. That is why teachers have never been more important than they are right now.

What are your aspirations going forward?

To contribute towards having a positive impact in the local community, country, continent and even globally through collaborating with others. To empower and inspire the society through promoting peace and quality education.

I obviously want to continue teaching and doing all I can for the children and families in my community. I would like to reinforce our Talent Nurturing Club, the Science Club and inter-school Science Project competitions we take part in, and which do wonders for our students’ self-esteem. I also plan to invest in a school computer lab and ensure that we have better internet connectivity. Some of the money will help support bright but underprivileged students in the area. Some will go into further production of drought tolerant crops as well as promotion of kitchen gardening in the community.

With the platform of winning the prize and the huge interest it has prompted, I am also keen to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and would like to engage with other partners locally and internationally to achieve this. I also intend to come up with exchange programs on STEM with local and global institutions.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
\'This is Africa\'s time\', says Brother Peter Tabichi, Winner of 2019 Global Teacher Prize
© The Varkey Foundation
"This is Africa's time", says Brother Peter Tabichi, Winner of 2019 Global Teacher Prize
Peter Tabichi gave 80 percent of his earnings to poor children.
© The Varkey Foundation
Peter Tabichi gave 80 percent of his earnings to poor children.
© Global Teacher Prize
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