Shahanaj was born in a remote Bangladeshi village to two primary school teachers. From an early age she saw how in her society girls were discouraged from receiving education, and endured insults from neighbours, as well as economic hardship. Forced into an early marriage, she nevertheless persevered in her education, coming 2nd in the national education board for her secondary exams, and later completing an Honours and Master’s degree in Islamic history and culture. Beginning with a private school that she and some other women started, she threw herself into educating others, later moving on to a state primary school and becoming more qualified.
Shahanaj has concentrated on results, and her students have performed very well. While many children in Bangladesh have to drop out of school to work, the dropout rate has been vastly reduced by Shahanaj’s teaching methods, which have emphasized technology and multimedia applications. Better results and skills mean that students have had more opportunities available to them and some have gone on to study in other countries or entered the medical and engineering professions within Bangladesh. Shahanaj has also published research on why students generally fail to achieve standard primary education, and regularly takes part in training seminars for new teachers. She has been named Upazilla Best Teacher in 2010, and Best Female Teacher nationally in 2013, meeting the Prime Minister of Bangladesh live on TV.
With the prize funds, Shahanaj would arrange a fund for poor students and children with disabilities, for which she has a detailed plan.