How Nigeria’s global teacher prize finalist plans to spend $55,000 gift.

English teacher, Olasukanmi Opeifa was one of the 10 finalists of the Global Teacher Prize held last month. Though he did not win, he got a part of the $1 million prize because the eventual winner, Ranjitsinh Disale shared his prize with others. He tells KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE how he plans to use the money in Nigeria.

Thanks to the generosity of an Indian teacher, English Language teacher, Olasunkanmi Opeifa has $55,000 dollars to spend on enhancing education in Nigeria.

The Indian teacher, Ranjitsinh Disale, won the 2020 Global Teacher prize of $1 million last month and right there on the stage announced that he would share half of the prize with the nine other finalists, one of whom was Opeifa.

The top 10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize were selected out of 12,000 teachers nominated from 140 countries. Opeifa earned a place among the top 10 because of his versatility in using fun ways to teach English to children in his school – most of who are from disadvantaged backgrounds.  He introduces rap and songs that make the topics fun and memorable for the learners.

During the award held via the virtual paltform on December 3, 2020, 32-year-old Disale said he recognised the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had had on the education sector and was sharing his prize to support his fellow finalists in their work to keep children learning.

He said: “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.

“Teachers are the real change-makers who are changing the lives of their students with a mixture of chalk and challenges. They always believe in giving and sharing. And, therefore, I am very pleased to announce that I will share 50 percent 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.”

This gesture has helped Opeifa kick-start his dream project to create a digital learning hub for teachers and students as well as a scholarship scheme.

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The 35-year-old, who teaches at the Government Day Secondary School Karu, Abuja, is grateful that Disale’s graciousness means he can begin some of the projects he had planned to do if he had won the prize himself.

While the Ogun State born teacher cannot immediately begin his dream projects on a full scale, he said his share of the global prize – which would be paid in instalments of $5,555 for 10 years – can help him achieve significant success.

Opeifa told The Nation: “I planned to build a digital school in the space of 10 years, give scholarship to different students – at least have about 100 students on our list every year – once they graduate we renew them; and do some other basic activities in the community – build libraries in small communities. But the money is not coming that way and then the project is bigger than the money. 

So, what I have decided to do now is to have a small ICT hub that can run both as a library and an ICT hub for teacher training and students learning of ICT, at least those that want to prepare for JAMB for instance, may come in and learn how to use certain things, how to use one or two gadgets.”

For starters, Opeifa said the hub would be in his school. He already has a room dedicated to that purpose in the block of classrooms his school got because he won the Maltina Teacher of the Year award in 2018.

Opeifa, a graduate of the Lagos State University (LASU), said he was already equipping the room with computers and other necessary equipment.

“It will be in my school – at least that is where I can have full access to it and control. It will be well equipped with possibly the modern learning gadgets that you can think of – marker boards, projector, computers everywhere.  For now, I am installing about five computers using ink-line for teacher training and students practice too. 

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I am going to install more than 20. It is a small room; it is one of the rooms given to the school by Maltina when I won the Maltina Teacher of the Year, so it is one of the classrooms that the school has released to use for that project,” he said.

Apart from the hub, Opeifa will be giving scholarships as well   to help indigent students get through school from primary to tertiary.

“I will still go ahead for the scholarship programme for students.  They won’t be up to 100 as I said earlier; maybe 10 in primary school, 10 in secondary school, and a fixed amount for higher institution. It will just run every year like that. Whoever we assist now, in higher institution for instance, we will continue until the person graduates. 

We don’t want a case where we assist now and such a student cannot continue his education. So, once we pick you as our candidate- maybe 10 from higher institutions and we are using N50,000 to assist your parents, it could be half scholarship or whichever way until you graduate, regardless of your grade.  But make sure you are not having a spill over.  We give you a space of four years that you are supposed to use,” he said.

Even after the prize runs out in 10 years, Opeifa hopes to continue supporting the education of indigent students.

“I am hoping it is going to be a continuous thing as a foundation till I die, even when the money stops, we should be able to roll it on

Opeifa was full of praises for Ranjit, describing him as a worthy winner of the global teacher prize instituted by the Varkey Foundation and awarded in partnership with UNESCO.

He said he had prayed Ranjit would win the prize because of his humanness.

He said: “We all were ordinarily praying for such a man to win, having seen his application. Ranjit was not just magnanimous, very human and extra human – someone who has the phenomenal nature of man that if I should win one million dollars and other contestants should go, home they won’t be happy.

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“I read it one day and I told my wife that I prayed this man won. The possibility that I was winning was a little bit dicey because an African won last year and the world may shout ‘Ahah na only African dey‘, and two of us were again from Africa.  I became hopeful when I was told I am the first person from West Africa and Nigeria. I became very hopeful and I can I see a ray of hope in that way.

“But as soon as Ranjit’s name was announced, I said,’ Okay, that is good.’  I had even forgotten so when he announced (that he would share his prize), I said yes, ‘that is the secret’.”

Opeifa said Ranjit deserved to win his prize given his contributions to peace in many countries.

“Reading his story, he is a boss and he has done a lot of projects in India; and he is doing inter-country projects to foster peace in countries. I mean, who else will be a global teacher other than not someone who is connecting about five foreign countries and trying to foster peace club? I think that Ranjit deserves the award and I give it to him,” he said.

According to the Global Teacher Prize website, Ranjitsinh, who started his career in a rural school in India, won acclaim for producing text books in local language embedded with QR (Quick Response) Codes loaded with videos, poems, and other resources for Grades 1-4 classes.

The school won the best school award in 2016 in its district. His effort won him numerous awards in India, including the 2016 Innovative Researcher of the Year, and the 2018 National Innovation Foundation’s Innovator of the Year award.

The other finalists for the Prize were: Carlo Mazzone (Italy), Doani Bertan (Brazil), Hà Ánh Ph??ng (Vietnam), Jamie Frost (UK), Jeong-hyun Yun (South Korea), Leah Juelke (U.S.), Mokhudu Machaba (South Africa) and Samuel Isaiah (Malaysia).


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