Pakistani teacher Sister Zeph wins $1m Global Teacher Prize 2023 - GulfToday

Pakistani teacher Sister Zeph wins $1m Global Teacher Prize 2023


Sister Zeph receives her award during the ceremony.

Gulf Today Report

Pakistani teacher Sister Zeph, who founded her own school for underprivileged children in the courtyard of her home at just 13, has been named the winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023, organised in collaboration with UNESCO and in strategic partnership with Dubai Cares, a UAE-based global philanthropic organisation.

Now in its eighth year, the $1 million award is the largest prize of its kind.

Sister Zeph, an English, Urdu, culture, inter-faith harmony, climate change teacher at Gujranwala, Punjab in Pakistan, was selected from over 7,000 nominations and applications for the Global Teacher Prize from 130 countries around the world.

Actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry announced Sister Zeph as the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2023, at a ceremony which he also hosted, from UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris as a key part of its 42nd session General Conference.

Multi Grammy Award winning songwriter and producer Nile Rodgers spoke at the ceremony, highlighting the impact teachers had on his life and career, as well as the work of the We Are Family Foundation.

He said: "Learning is the greatest experience in life. Learning never ends and teachers never disappear."

US National Youth Poet Laureate Alexandra Huỳnh wrote and read aloud a special poem on the value of an empowered education. The Voice singer Rachel Modest also performed at the ceremony, singing a tribute to the world’s teachers.

The event also saw the launch of the highlights of the UNESCO and Teacher Taskforce Global Report on Teachers, presenting comprehensive data and perspectives on global teacher challenges and providing actionable recommendations for teacher recruitment and retention.

The report spotlights that a staggering 44 million additional teachers need to be recruited globally to meet universal primary and secondary education in 2030.

The Global Teacher Prize was set up to recognise 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.

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 millions of teachers all over the world.

Zeph-teacher-from-Pak-750x450Sister Zeph.

Sister Zeph founded her own school in the courtyard of her home at just 13 for children whose parents cannot pay fees.She worked eight-hour days to fund the school, then taught students for another four hours, and then stayed up at night teaching herself.

Twenty-six years later, the school, now housed in a brand-new building, provides free education for more than 200 underprivileged children.

From a young age she faced adversity, and emerged as a beacon of hope for underprivileged children in her wider community.

Many of her students from humble background have gone to work for her education and empowerment foundation while others have gone on to very successful professional careers.

As well as running the school, she runs self-defence classes for girls, having herself been attacked and threatened. She also provides financial assistance to families choosing between educating their children and paying their bills, and runs a vocational centre that has helped more than 6,000 women gain skills in ICT, textiles, and the English language.

Her dedication to education and empowerment has touched countless lives and earned her numerous awards, recognizing her as a true change-maker and advocate for women’s rights and children's education around the world.

With the Global Teacher Prize funds, Sister Zeph plans to build a school on 10 acres where children from the poorest families in the country can be educated without discrimination. She would also like to create a shelter for orphans, where food would be grown on the property and teachers from all parts of the world would be invited to instruct them in a range of subjects.

The other top 10 finalists for the Global Student Prize 2023 are Annie Ohana from Canada, Deep Narayan Nayak from India, Nicolas Gaube from France, Shafina Vohra from the United Kingdom, Eric Asomani Asante from Ghana, Mariette Wheeler from South Africa, Melissa Tracy from the United States, Geisha Bonilla from Chile and Artur Proidakov from Ukraine. 

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, said: “Congratulations to Sister Zeph for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2023. Inspirational teachers deserve recognition for their strong commitment to education in a world faced by global teacher shortages and a decline in conditions and status. Teachers matter! Now more than ever, we must honor and support teachers as they shape not only the next generation but the future course of our societies.”

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of Dubai Cares, said: “Teachers are at the heart of the education ecosystem and have one of the most important jobs in the world as they shape young minds and prepare them for a world that is constantly changing. We congratulate Sister Zeph who has earned a place in history as the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2023. This accomplishment showcases her passion and enthusiasm for making teaching a truly enriching and meaningful experience for students. As an organization that understands the crucial role teachers play in a transformed education system, Dubai Cares looks forward to continue working towards empowering and enabling educators to transform the lives of children as well as their communities.”

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: “Congratulations to Sister Zeph for winning the Global Teacher Prize 2023. Your incredible story shows the vital role education plays in tackling the great challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Dubai Cares’ long-standing support for the Global Teacher Prize stems from its belief that an investment in teachers is an investment in human development. Through its Framework for Global Education Transformation, Dubai Cares is committed to elevating the role of educators as coaches, mentors and facilitators as well as positioning them as “Human Experience Teachers” who can nurture students and empower them with the values, skills, knowledge and experiences they need to face the complexities and challenges of the future. 

Applications and nominations for this year’s Global Teacher Prize opened on 6 May 2023 and closed on 25 June 2023. The prize is open to working teachers who teach children that are in compulsory schooling or are between the ages of five and eighteen. Teachers who teach children age 4+ in an Early Years government-recognised curriculum are also eligible, as are teachers who teach on a part-time basis, and teachers of online courses. Teachers must spend at least 10 hours per week teaching and plan to remain in the profession for the next 5 years.  It is open to teachers in every kind of school and, subject to local laws, in every country in the world.

Teachers applying for the Global Teacher Prize are assessed on teaching practices, how they innovate to address local challenges, achieve demonstrable learning outcomes, impact the community beyond the classroom, help children become global citizens, improve the teaching profession and gain recognition from external bodies.

Interested teachers were able to apply for the Global Teacher Prize at

Helping to raise the bar of respect for the teaching profession, the winner was chosen from the top 10 finalists by the Global Teacher Prize Academy, made up of prominent individuals. 

When teachers are nominated, the person nominating them writes a brief description online explaining why. The teacher being nominated is then sent an email letting them know they have been nominated and inviting them to apply for the prize. Applicants could apply in English, Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. To join the conversation online, please follow @TeacherPrize.


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