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This is the year in which I would like to see a significant shift in the status afforded to some of the most important people in our lives and in the lives of our children — our teachers. What used to be considered a career choice for the best and brightest, ranked as a highly-lauded profession alongside doctors and lawyers, has suffered in recent years. Sometimes subject to derogatory statements — ever heard the phrase ‘Those that can’t do, teach’? — or considered an easy job, a job suitable for women before they start a family, or even a ‘vocation’ where asking for status or financial recompense is deemed inappropriate, I believe it is time that all of these attitudes are kicked firmly to the kerb.

I want this to be the year of the teacher.

At GEMS Education, an organisation born in the UAE more than five decades ago and now employing more than 13,000 teachers and professionals educating over 140,000 enrolled students in 19 countries around the world — this isn’t something we’re making casual reference to, it is something that we are championing locally, regionally and globally.

In 2015, the Varkey GEMS Foundation — the philanthropic arm of GEMS Education — will be bestowing the inaugural Global Teacher Prize, under the gracious patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The prize is a culmination of many years of research and development, and we feel is a long overdue acknowledgement of the teaching profession as a whole and specifically those individuals who are working — often in exceptional circumstances but sometimes in everyday ones — to provide young people with the skills, confidence and capacity to shape their own successful futures, and even to raise themselves and their families out of the poverty cycle and create better, stronger communities.

The Global Teacher Prize will be awarded to one of 50 exceptional shortlisted candidates who have each made positive impacts to the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of individuals — including two teachers from the Middle East. I would urge you to read their stories; you cannot fail to be inspired.

In February, the panel of jurors will somehow manage to whittle this list down to ten, before the overall winner is announced at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March.

The winner will receive a prize for $1m, on the proviso that they will remain in teaching for at least a further two years, but the award is about much more than money. We developed this prize because we want to ensure that, as an educator, we have the highest quality team working at our schools. Because we want to encourage more men to enter the profession and provide role models for male students — who are more likely to drop out of school, or fail to enter tertiary education than their female counterparts. And because we want young Gulf nationals to consider teaching and education as a first choice career, and provide the best possible education for the generations who follow behind them.

 So I apologise if this not a piece focused on economic factors, or demographic shifts, or changing trends in the educational requirements of specific communities here in the GCC. But instead, I hope that this article might help to reverse the erosion of respect for the teaching profession, and that in 2015, the tide might finally start to turn.


Dino Varkey


This article first appeared in Arabianbusiness.