Ranjitsinh Disale
Ranjitsinh Disale

India's Ranjitsinh Disale wins $ 1 million Global Teacher Prize 2020

London, December 3, 2020

An Indian school teacher, Ranjitsinh Disale, who transformed the life chances of young girls at the Zilla Parishad Primary School, Paritewadi, Solapur in Maharashtra, was today named the winner of the $ 1 million Global Teacher Prize 2020.

The Global Teacher Prize was founded six years ago by the Surrey, England-headquartered Varkey Foundation, headed by Dubai-based non-resident Indian (NRI) businessman and philanthropist Sunny Varkey, in partnership with UNESCO, with the aim of raising the profession’s profile.

In his winning speech, Disale made the extraordinary announcement that he will share half the prize money with his fellow Top 10 finalists, resulting in the other nine finalists receiving just over US$55,000 each.

This is the first time in the Global Teacher Prize’s six-year history that the overall winner has shared the prize money with other finalists.

Disale was selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world.

The prize was set up to recognize one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.

For the first time, the Global Teacher Prize winning announcement was made at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London, with comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry announcing the winner. The ceremony also included 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.

The $ 45,000 COVID Hero Award, supported by CVC Capital Partners, was given to UK Maths teacher Jamie Frost, whose free DrFrostMaths became a lifeline for students shut out of classrooms all around the world.

At this year’s ceremony, the Varkey Foundation also announced the launch of the new Chegg.org Global Student Prize, a $50,000 sister prize to the Global Teacher Prize, which will open applications and nominations in the new year. The Global Student Prize will create a powerful new platform to highlight the efforts of extraordinary students throughout the world that are making a real impact on learning, the lives of their peers and on society beyond.

Disale initially wanted to be an IT engineer, but after engineering college did not work out as he anticipated, his father suggested teacher training as an alternative. Initially hesitant, Ranjitsinh’s time in teacher training college was life-changing. He saw that teachers are the real change-makers in the world, and decided to become one.

According to the prize citation, the first school he taught in was in a dilapidated building, sandwiched between a cattle shed and a storeroom. Most of the girls were from tribal communities that did not prioritise girls’ education, and the practice of teenage marriage was common.

Additionally, the curriculum was not in the students’ primary language (Kannada), which meant that many students were unable to achieve expected learning outcomes. After putting in a great deal of effort, Disale learned Kannada, and redesigned all the textbooks of grades 1-4 for better comprehension, along with unique QR codes that embedded audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments in Kannada. (These QR coded books also benefited many girls when schools were closed for two months due to a terror attack, as they were able to continue learning using the books – and BBC News featured a story about them on 5th September 2019 to celebrate Teachers’ Day.)

Students now reflect on, discuss and showcase what they are learning to a far greater extent – developing communication, creativity and real-world problem-solving skills.

As a result of these efforts, the school was awarded Best School for the district in 2016, and 98 per cent of students have achieved their expected learning outcomes before completing the school year.

In terms of his wider impact, the CEO of Microsoft (Satya Nadella) has recognized Disale’s work as one of three stories from India in his book Hit Refresh. The central government named Disale the 2016 Innovative Researcher of the Year, and he also won the National Innovation Foundation’s Innovator of the Year award in 2018.

He has communicated his methods by writing more than 500 newspaper articles and blogs, as well as participating in television discussions on educational topics.

The impact of Disale's interventions has been extraordinary: there are now no teenage marriages in the village and 100 per cent attendance by girls at the school. The school was also recently awarded the best school in the district with 85% of his students achieving A grades in annual exams. One girl from the village has now graduated from University, something seen as an impossible dream before he arrived.

Disale then went on to create nothing short of a revolution in the use of QR coded textbooks throughout India. His school was the first in the state of Maharashtra to introduce them and after submitting a proposal and successful pilot scheme, the State Ministry announced in 2017 that they would introduce QR coded textbooks across the state for all grades 1-12.

Following the success of this, HRD Ministry of India asked NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training) to study the impact of QR Coded Textbooks and how this can be scaled up nationally. In 2018, HRD Minister Prakash Javdekar announced that all NCERT textbooks would have embedded QR Codes.

Beyond the classroom, Disale helps his students apply their learning to tackle real world problems they are facing. With his school in a drought-prone district of Maharashtra, his school has now successfully tackled the issue of desertification, increasing green land from 25% to 33% in the last ten years. In all, 250 hectares of land surrounding his village was saved from desertification, earning his school the Wipro Nature for Society award in 2018.

Disale is also passionate about building peace between young people across conflict zones. His "Let’s Cross the Borders" project connects young people from India and Pakistan, Palestine and Israel, Iraq and Iran and USA and North Korea. Over a six-week programme, students are matched with a peace buddy from other countries with whom they closely interact - preparing presentations and listening to guest speakers together to understand their similarities. So far, he has initiated an incredible 19,000 students from eight countries into this programme. Further to this, using the Microsoft Educator Community platform, Disale spends his weekends taking students from schools around the world with depleted resources on virtual field trips.

He is most well-known for demonstrating scientific experiments from the science lab he has built in his home. Official numbers from Microsoft show that Disale has taught an incredible 85,000 plus students from over 1400 classrooms in 83 countries via these virtual lessons.

But Disale doesn’t stop there. He is determined to ensure that everything he learns is passed on to other teachers. During summer vacations, he has trained, face to face, more than 16,000 in-service teachers throughout the state of Maharashtra on how they can augment their teaching using technology, the citation added.


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