Earlier this year, Peter Tabichi, a Catholic Franciscan brother from Kenya who gives away 80% of his salary to help the poor, won the annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize. Established in 2014 by the education-focused Varkey Foundation, the prize is presented to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. Tabichi was selected from a list of 10 finalists from around the world. His achievements include more than half the students in his underprivileged school qualifying for college or university and doubling enrolment in three years. Tabichi was also declared the UN in Kenya Person of the Year. He spoke to Africa Renewal’s Zipporah Musau about his future plans. These are excerpts:
Africa Renewal: Can you give us a brief background about yourself?
Peter Tabichi: My name is Brother Peter Mokaya Tabichi. I am a maths and physics teacher at Keriko Secondary School in Nakuru [County], Kenya. I teach in a school that is under-resourced and without adequate facilities. It is quite challenging for us to teach in such an environment, but we try as much as possible to be creative. I also mentor my students and help them unlock their potential.
What has brought you to New York?
As the Global Teacher Prize winner, I’m here on a special mission—to talk about the teaching profession. I am here to tell the world that teachers are very important people in the society and deserve recognition. The teacher prize is a great initiative in promoting the teaching profession. I’m also here to promote science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), especially in Africa.
Why are you rooting specifically for STEM?
I promote STEM because I believe it can empower the young generation, our students. STEM is a great way of unlocking the potential of Africa’s youth. It also equips them with other important skills such as communication, problem solving, teamwork and how to be creative and innovative. This way they will be able to solve some of the challenges we are facing in Africa today, such as climate change and food and water shortages. We don’t need others to come to Africa to solve our problems for us. We have the ideas and the power.
Every child has a unique talent, but sometimes they don’t realize their dreams because they are not given proper support or granted the opportunity. I believe STEM is one way of helping them discover their respective talents. But we also need ideas—an integrated approach—on how we should all support it
What does this award mean to you?
It means a lot. The award is not just for me alone, it shows that what teachers do is really important in society, that teachers are doing great work which deserves recognition. At the same time, it shows that students also can achieve a lot. It is because of my students’ achievements that I was able to get this recognition.
I want to use this platform to inspire the poor in the community. Quality education is not just about academic knowledge. It’s also about character formation, creativity, communication skills and discovering the talents of young people. Regardless of where students come from, every single child has a gift and needs to be given opportunities. As teachers we need to be aware of that.
Name: Peter Tabichi
Years teaching: 12
School: Keriko Secondary School
Location: Remote area of Nakuru County in Kenya’s Rift Valley
Students from poor background: 95%
Distance to school for most of his students: 7 km
Student-teacher ratio: 58:1
Number of computers: 1
Expanded school’s science club
Uses ICT in 80% of his lessons
School enrolment has doubled to 400 in three years
Indiscipline cases fell from 30 per week to three
More than half of his students qualified to join university and college last year
Boosted girls’ achievement, they are now leading boys in all tests
How do you plan to use the $1 million that you won?
I want to use this award to empower and inspire others, starting within my school, and then the local community where I teach and beyond. My school has no lab equipment, no internet connection, no kitchen, no dining hall. These are some of the things I will ensure that we have. I will also make sure that we get computers so teachers can integrate ICT [information and communication technologies] in their lessons, and that the school has access to clean drinking water. For the rest of the community, I want programmes that can address food security. I know I cannot solve all the challenges, but I will do what is within my ability.
What led you to become a teacher?
I come from a family of teachers. My father and some of my cousins are teachers. I was inspired to pursue teaching because I saw firsthand the important role played by teachers. My father, who is now retired, also inspired me in so many other aspects of life, ensuring that I grew up in a Christian setting with values such as honesty and integrity.
What, in your view, should African countries do to improve their education systems in Africa?
I believe every country should have a system that ensures quality education. For example, in my country, Kenya, the government is currently introducing a new competency-based education system to ensure that young people can become independent, productive, innovative and creative. Also, to learn life skills that will enable them to promote peace and unity in the society. I am so happy that this is happening in Kenya now, and feel it is an opportunity for us in Africa to promote that kind of system. We have a young generation that can achieve a lot and become famous in the future. These young Africans have the potential of becoming great scientists and engineers recognized globally.
What are your future plans?
Now that I have the platform, I really look forward to inspiring others—to promote what I believe is going to make us achieve our dreams, and to talk about the significant role teachers play in society. I want to promote peace and unity, not only in Kenya, but also in Africa and globally.
What is your message to other teachers?
I believe one of the best methods is to be creative and use technology—integrating ICT—in our teaching. Be a good listener because you are going to change the lives of so many young people. Teachers have a deep responsibility in the society, and they should be aware of that. Teaching is not only about incentives, but about commitment, passion and being able to go beyond the classroom.
What is your message to young people?
Every child has a talent, try to discover what your talent is. Young people should also learn teamwork, creativity and respect for one another.