PWANI, Kenya – At the end of a dusty road in the remote village of Pwani in central Kenya, the first African to have been named the best teacher in the world works in a humble room surrounded by green fields.
Peter Tabichi triggered celebration and excitement across his native Kenya last March when he won the Global Teacher Prize 2019 award which comes with a prize of $1 million.
“I don’t just teach students for them to get grades. It’s not only about their academic success. It’s about making students into people who will be able to fit into society,” the 36-year-old teacher, who is a Franciscan brother, told Efe. “To bring peace, to bring harmony within society.”
Tabichi uses innovative educational technology and methods to broaden the horizon of his students.
The Kenyan, born in the southwestern Nyamira County, grew up in a family of teachers, his father being a key source of inspiration.
Tabichi jokes with his students during lessons in simple classrooms with earth-colored walls.
“Just try!” he says encouragingly. “We don’t expect perfect answers.”
When teaching the elements of the periodic table, Tabachi invites his students to get up and shake or remain frozen as they act out how different types of particles would behave.
Pupils ask questions and then burst out laughing as they are encouraged to enjoy themselves during the young teacher’s lessons.
Tabichi is so invested in the progression of his students that he often visits his pupils’ families.
Although Nakuru County, where Pwani is located, is not among the most deprived areas of the country, some 95 percent of students at the school come from poor families, and almost a third are orphans or only have one parent, according to the organization that hands out the award each year, the Varkey Foundation.
Tabichi told Efe some students rely on the school lunch and that for the poorest it is the sole meal they get in the day.
Some have to travel long distances every morning on unpaved roads to attend classes, such as Salome Njeri, 20, who walks for about 50 minutes.
This young woman participates in the school’s science club, founded by Tabichi, and was one of the students selected for the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair in 2018 after she invented a device along another female pupil that allows blind people to measure objects.
They were also selected for the International Science and Engineering Fair, which was held this year in Arizona, United States, where they won first prize in their category.
“Peter Tabichi has been our mentor from the beginning, because there is this belief that girls can not do anything, and we passed through many challenges like being discouraged by our fellow students, especially the boys, telling us we would not be able to defeat them in anything but we had to continue to prove they were wrong,” Njeri told Efe.
But Tabichi always encouraged her and had faith that she could go far.
Land and technology join forces during Tabichi’s lessons, who teaches horticulture to combat food scarcity and also uses the only computer in the school in his classes.
The center has a precarious internet connection, a problem the teacher is keen to solve with the money the prize included.
Despite the lack of resources and facilities, teachers deliver classes in spacious and furnished rooms, with brick walls and under metal roofs painted in a shade of sky blue.
The school grounds also have a bucolic and discreet grove, an initiative Tabichi launched: planting trees in favor of peace.
Some of the students have tragic family histories, and the pupils come from some seven ethnic groups.
“I had to find a way to unite them,” he said, which led to the founding of a “peace club.”
Tabichi’s success has generated great joy across Kenya, and he was congratulated on his work by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He has used the award to champion the work of teachers around the world.
“Teachers have the chance to do a lot, to change society, to transform the lives of people. Above all, to unlock the potential of their students,” he concludes.