South African Teacher Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba Makes Final Ten For Us $1 Million Global Teacher Prize 2020

16 Sep 2020 |

In a moving tribute, Stephen Fry announces Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba as a top ten finalist

South African teacher Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba has been named a top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, in partnership with UNESCO. 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 Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba as a top ten finalist, comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry paid a moving tribute to Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba’s work. He said:

“Today I am delighted to announce that Mokhudu Machaba from South Africa is a top ten finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020. Mokhudu, you started out with just a single cell phone for Internet access in class. You then obtained laptops from anywhere you could by showcasing exactly what your students could achieve. You’ve won prizes for integrating ICT in the classroom, introduced your students to Coding Week by using Minecraft, and your students have also started learning with students throughout the world through the Microsoft Educator Platform. Congratulations Mokhudu and thank you for everything you do”.

Maths teacher Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba from Ngwanamago Primary School, Polokwane, Limpopo, South Africa, was shortlisted for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, after being selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world.

Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba grew up in poverty and struggled to get an education. Her school was about eight kilometres away from home and getting there involved crossing a river; she often had no shoes and used a rice sack as a school bag. At school, the pupils sat on the floor writing on slate, or on the ground outside. Getting pregnant at the age of 15 due to peer pressure was hard to deal with and led to a year off school. When she returned the following year, with help from her mother, she excelled in her exams, becoming the top student in her classes. Due to a lack of financial support, she needed various jobs to support herself. Undertaking domestic work at the age of 19 to fund her studies persuaded her parents how serious she was, and eventually she was able to go to a technical college to study childcare, followed by Soweto College of Education for a teaching qualification. She took five years to get a job as a teacher because South Africa had so many qualified teachers looking for work at the time. As the eldest in the family able to work, she had to take care of her siblings by working as a street vendor. When she finally got a teaching post it was 75 kilometres from the family home.

Having had to learn and train without much technological help, she was determined to ensure that the opposite is true for her own students. Starting with the use of a single cellphone for Internet access in class, she obtained laptops from the ISPA Super Teacher awards, Microsoft, and the South African government – all by showcasing her students’ activities. She has now introduced her students to Coding Week, using Minecraft as an introduction, and students have also started talking with learners from other countries through the Microsoft Educator Platform and mystery Skypes.

In 2009, Mokhudu was the runner-up in the ISPA Super Teacher prize for ICT Integration in the classroom. In 2015 she was crowned Provincial winner of the National Teaching Award (Technology Enhanced Teaching category), and she has also been recognized as one of the 50 Inspiring Women in Tech for South Africa.
Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba joins US teacher Leah Juelke and South Korean teacher Yun Jeong-hyun as a top 10 finalist. The remaining seven 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 Mokhudu Cynthia Machaba for being selected as a top ten finalist from such a huge number of talented and dedicated teachers. I hope her story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also highlight the incredible work teachers do all over South Africa 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”.

Kim Jayde, Award winning TV presenter and Forbes Africa 30 under 30, said:

“Mokhudu - you grew up in poverty and struggled to get an education. Your school was about eight kilometres away from home and getting there involved crossing a river. You had no shoes and used a rice sack as a school bag. Yet you never faltered. You continued your education and became a teacher. And now you’re determined to ensure the best education for your students by integrating ICT in your classroom.

“Africa is a continent bursting with the promise. Everywhere I meet young people I see hard work, a determination to defy the odds, and be the best the best they can be. Teachers like Mohkudu have never been more important in Africa than at this very moment. Only they can equip young people with the skills to fulfil their dreams and the continent’s promise”.

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”.