*Originally published via the Catholic Herald
Brother Peter Tabichi, a Franciscan friar who teaches maths and science in rural Kenya, gives away 80 per cent of his salary to support poorer students in his community. Last week he won one of the world’s richest prizes: the prestigious $1 million Global Teacher Prize, awarded by the Varkey Foundation.
The 36-year-old teacher at the Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani village in Nakuru insisted that the prize was “not about the money”, but rather about giving his students a chance to raise their horizons. “As a teacher working on the front line, I have seen the promise of [Africa’s] young people – their curiosity, their talent, their intelligence, their belief,” he said. “Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will one day be famous in every corner of the world.”
Brother Peter is the first African teacher to win the award, beating 10,000 teachers from 179 countries to the prize. He was congratulated by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who described him as “a shining example of what the human spirit can achieve”.
Brother Peter has helped to change the outlook of many of his students, having launched a popular club which helps boys and girls design science projects. He has mentored many of his pupils through to the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair, where in 2018 his students showcased a device to allow blind and deaf people to measure objects. His students have been successful in many international science competitions, including wining an award from Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry after showing how to harness local plant life to generate electricity.
Many of his pupils are poor, and almost a third are orphans or from single-parent families. Brother Peter says his main challenges include a lack of books, over-crowded classrooms (with up to 80 students per class) and an unreliable internet connection for the one solitary computer in the school.
Other difficulties include persuading local families to value education and to encourage girls, in particular, to stay in school. Often he visits families whose children are at risk of dropping out to persuade them to let their children continue their education. He provides low-achieving pupils, in particular, with one-to-one tuition in maths and science outside of class and at weekends.
Brother Peter sees this award as a hopeful sign. “It’s morning in Africa,” he said. “The skies are clear. The day is young and there is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time.
“This prize does not recognise me but recognises this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything.”
Brooks Newmark is founder of A Partner in Education