Let’s rewind to 2016. Hanan Al Hroub, a teacher from Palestine, was up for that year’s Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.
The gong, which awards the recipient $1 million, has been dubbed the Nobel Prize for teachers, as it recognises those who have made an outstanding contribution to the profession.
Al Hroub, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp, had been garnering a reputation for her work specialising in children who had been affected by violence. Using a method she created herself, Al Hroub focuses on play as a way for children to cope with trauma and return to a sense of stability.
“I want kids to enrich themselves, rather than just learn,” she said in 2016. Many of her students had experienced violence first hand and were prone to lashing out in the classroom. But with her play-first method, most improved within a few months.
It did not go unnoticed. On the night of the 2016 Global Teacher Prize, she won.
Following her victory, a video message of the Pope offering his congratulations was played to the room.
In it, he praises Al Hroub’s innovative approach, and commends her for giving her students back their childhoods.
While the message was touching for those present, the appearance of the Pope caused something of a PR coup.
Vikas Pota, chairman of the Varkey Foundation, recently described its impact to The National:
“To have a Catholic Pope recognise a Muslim woman in a hijab from Palestine is a really powerful statement. In terms of symbolism, I don’t think you can get any more powerful when it comes to education and the purpose of education.”
Where Al Hroub teaches, children have often grown up amidst violence and unrest. By educating them in a way that deals with their trauma and challenges their intellect, Al Hroub—and teachers like her—increase the children’s chances of creating a more peaceful future in their homeland.
The Pope’s message highlighted the importance of this.
As Pota said last month: “We want teachers to be held in the same regard as doctors and this is what is achieved when someone so powerful and someone so holy comes and shares the light that is on him with a teacher.”