A primary school teacher from India was on Thursday named the winner of the $1 million annual Global Teacher Prize 2020 in recognition of his efforts to promote girls' education and trigger a quick-response (QR) coded textbook revolution in India.
Ranjitsinh Disale, 32, from Paritewadi village in Maharashtra's Solapur district, emerged the winner among 10 finalists from across the world. The annual prize was founded by the Varkey Foundation in 2014 to recognise an exceptional teacher who has made outstanding contribution to the profession.
Mr Disale, who believes that teachers are the world's "real changemakers", announced that he will be sharing 50 per cent of his prize money with his fellow finalists to support their "incredible work".
"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," Mr Disale said.
"Teachers are the real changemakers who are changing the lives of their students with a mixture of chalk and challenges. They always believe in giving and sharing. 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," he said.
His gesture means the other nine finalists will receive just over $55,000 each, making history as the first winner to share his prize money.
"By sharing the prize money, you teach the world the importance of giving," said Indian education philanthropist Sunny Varkey, the founder of the prize.
"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.
In another first, the Global Teacher Prize 2020 winner's announcement was made at a virtual ceremony, broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London by British actor-broadcaster Stephen Fry.
"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 (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), a partner of the initiative.
Speaking to a Marathi channel, Mr Disale said, "A teacher always shares his knowledge, insights with students. I received the prize for the work I did for the teachers, students and for the field of education."
"So if I share 50 per cent of the prize money with other runner-up teachers, it would help them do what they desire to do in their countries," he said in response to a query about why he decided to share the prize money.
"Of course, I want to work for the students in India. But at the same time, I would like to work for the students across the borders as I believe that the world is my classroom," he added.
Mr Disale said he wants to allocate 30 per cent of the prize money towards "teachers'' innovation fund" that he plans to set up.
"There are several teachers in the country, who possess innovative ideas to transform education and I think that fund can be used for such talent," he added.
He said he had decided to develop himself as a "professional teacher".
"Teachers abroad are more professional. They spend some part of their earnings on their own development. As a teacher, when I came in their contact, I could see the difference," he added.
Mr Disale feels that he is a teacher from the 20th century and the students are from the 21st century.
"So it is like students from the 21st century are being taught by a teacher from the 20th century with the 19th century curriculum using techniques of the 18th century. This is the gap that we need to bridge and I think technology is the main enabler in this," he added.
When Mr Disale arrived at the Zilla Parishad Primary School at Paritewadi in Solapur in 2009, it was a dilapidated building, sandwiched between a cattle shed 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. He not only translated the textbooks into their mother tongue, but also embedded them with unique QR codes to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments.
As a result of his interventions, no teenage marriage has been reported in the village and there has been 100 per cent attendance of girls at the school.
Mr Disale's school went on to become the first in Maharashtra to introduce QR codes. After submitting a proposal and successful pilot scheme, the state ministry announced in 2017 that they would introduce QR coded textbooks across the state for all grades.
In 2018, the human resources development ministry announced that all the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks would have embedded QR codes.
Mr Disale 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 with. So far, Mr Disale has inducted about 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 lack of resources on virtual field trips.
He is well-known for demonstrating scientific experiments from the science lab he built in his home as well.
Mr Disale was selected in the final 10 from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries, alongside Olasunkanmi Opeifa from Nigeria, Jamie Frost from the UK, Carlo Mazzone from Italy, Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba from South Africa, Leah Juelke from the US, Yun Jeong-hyun from South Korea, Samuel Isaiah from Malaysia and Doani Emanuela Bertan from Brazil.
The Global Teacher Prize is paid in equal installments over 10 years, with the Varkey Foundation providing winners with financial counselling and support through an ambassadorial role for the profession.