Olasunkanmi Opeifa: in the final race for the $1m Global Teacher Prize

Nigerian teacher Olasunkanmi Opeifa has been named a top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, in partnership with UNESCO.

Opeifa is an English teacher at Government Day Secondary School, Karu, Abuja.

He was shortlisted for the finals from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world

Now in its sixth year, the US$1 million award established by the Varkey Foundation is the largest prize of its kind.

In a special video message announcing Olasunkanmi Opeifa as a top ten finalist, comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry paid a moving tribute to Olasunkanmi Opeifa’s work.

He said: “Today I am delighted to announce that Olasunkanmi Opeifa from Nigeria is a top ten finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020. Olasunkanmi, you have inspired your students by using edutainment- fun-based learning to teach English language concepts, with essay writing linked to popular dance steps, and phonology and grammar demonstrated by rapping and hip-hop songs. You also published a book on learning English in order to reach more students beyond your community, and introduced free weekend tutorials in order to cover the syllabus with them. With this approach, examination results have vastly improved and many of your students now meet the benchmark for admission to university. Congratulations Olasunkanmi and thank you for everything you do”.

Opeifa decided that he would become a teacher at the very young age of eight, and has never wavered in his choice – despite teachers in Nigeria not generally enjoying a high status.

As a student at Lagos State University, he volunteered as a teacher in a free tutorial centre preparing underprivileged students for secondary school examinations and university entrance.

After graduation, he served for a year in a very remote part of the country, Koma, Adamawa, as the only English teacher in a village school of over 200 students, where he helped build the school’s first ever library.

In 2012, he moved to Government Day Secondary School in Karu, a semi-rural area of Abuja serving children of low-income earners in the civil service, market traders and artisans. Students often cannot afford textbooks or the heavily subsidized school fees. With more than fifty students per class, he grappled with teaching English to children with poor writing and reading skills and relative poverty, but despite so many challenges, his is a success story.

Opeifa has a reputation for innovation and going out of his way to ensure his students receive the best possible tuition, often consulted by other staff on the latest 21st century learning skills, as he uses the flipped classroom model for teaching essay writing, Google Forms or Microsoft Forms for assessment, online videos and e-past questions. To stimulate his students he has been known to use edutainment/fun-based learning for teaching English language concepts, for example linking essay writing with popular dance steps and, to demonstrate phonology and grammar, he has even taken to rapping and hip-hop songs.

Having published a book on oral English pedagogy in 2014, he has been invited to speak at seminars organised for teachers. He boosted his school’s recognition and good name winning the 2018 Maltina Teacher of the Year Award as the best teacher in Nigeria. As part of the dividend from this prize, a block of six classrooms was built at the school with a library well stocked with books, enabling the school to take up to 300 new students a year.

Olasunkanmi Opeifa joins UK teacher Jamie Frost, Italian teacher Carlo Mazzone, South African teacher Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba, US teacher Leah Juelke and South Korean teacher Yun Jeong-hyun as a top 10 finalist.

The remaining four top 10 finalists will be announced one each week in the run up to the Global Teacher Prize ceremony, which will be virtual for the very first time in its history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Global Teacher Prize is also delighted to announce that this year’s virtual ceremony, expected to take place on December 3rd 2020 where the overall winner will be announced, will be hosted by English comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry from the Natural History Museum in London. The ceremony will also include a special recognition for one teacher – a COVID hero – who has gone above and beyond to keep young people learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With ten years to go to meet UN sustainable development goal 4 – providing a quality education for every child – the Global Teacher Prize has partnered with UNESCO to ensure teachers are right at the top of governments’ agendas.

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director General for Education at UNESCO, said:
“Congratulations to Olasunkanmi Opeifa for being selected as a top ten finalist from such a huge number of talented and dedicated teachers. I hope his story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also highlight the incredible work teachers do all over Nigeria and throughout the world every day.

“The Global Teacher Prize helps put the teacher voice at the heart of our mission to champion inclusive learning opportunities for children and young people all over the world, especially the most marginalised and disadvantaged, during this sudden and unprecedented disruption to global education.

“Since the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, we have seen 1.5 billion learners across the world impacted by school and university closures. But not all learners are being impacted equally. Governments must learn lessons and act decisively to ensure all children receive a quality education in the age of COVID and beyond”.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Global Teacher Prize, said: “The Global Teacher Prize was set up to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society. By unearthing thousands of stories of heroes that have transformed young people’s lives, the prize hopes to bring to life the exceptional work of teachers all over the world.

“This year, more than ever, we have seen teachers go above and beyond to keep young people learning throughout the world. Teachers everywhere should be applauded for their creativity, compassion and resolve to fulfil every child’s right to a good education”.