Canadian wins $1m best-teacher prize in Dubai

Mohammed bin Rashid presents award to Maggie MacDonnell at special ceremony

Canadian teacher Maggie MacDonnell (L) receives the Global Teacher Prize from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice-president and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, during a ceremony in Dubai. (KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadian teacher Maggie MacDonnell (L) receives the Global Teacher Prize from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice-president and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, during a ceremony in Dubai. (KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadian teacher Maggie MacDonnell has been named as the winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize.

Organised annually by Varkey Foundation in Dubai, the award acknowledges the work and dedication of teachers from around the world.

MacDonnell works and lives in one of the world’s most remote regions, in Salluit, an Inuit village deep in the Canadian Arctic, surrounded by snow and ice. She won the award, and the $1 million prize, for “changing the lives of her students and transforming her community”, according to the Varkey Foundation.

“We matter; teachers matter,” MacDonnell said, speaking on stage after being presented the award by Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai.

"The nomination process created a means for more than 20,000 teachers to feel valued and revitalised and to have their professional commitment validated.”

After completing her Master's degree Maggie MacDonnell sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada and for the past six years has been a teacher in the Canadian Arctic, Education Journal Middle report. In winter, temperatures are minus 25C. There were six suicides in 2015, all affecting young males between the ages of 18 and 25.

Due to the harsh conditions there are very high rates of teacher turnover, which is a significant barrier to education in the Arctic. Many teachers leave their post midway through the year, and many apply for stress leave.

Moreover, there are tremendous gender issues in the Inuit region of Nunavik where teenage pregnancies are common and gender roles often burden young girls with large domestic duties. Also, in areas of high deprivation, isolation and limited resources, teenagers often turn to drinking and smoking, and even drugs and self-harm, as forms of escape and release.

MacDonnell's approach has been about turning students from "problems" to "solutions". She created a life skills programme specifically for girls, which has seen a 500% improvement in girls' registration.

The announcement was made on the final day of the Global Education & Skills Forum.

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