This article appeared in the March 26, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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‘Do more and talk less’: Kenyan science teacher wins $1 million prize

Jon Gambrell/AP
Kenyan teacher Peter Tabichi, right, reacts near actor Hugh Jackman, after winning the $1 million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, March 24, 2019. Tabichi is a science teacher who gives away 80 percent of his income to the poor in the remote Kenyan village of Pwani.

Pax et bonum. Peace and good.

That’s the motto that Peter Tabichi, a Kenyan teacher, has painted on the box behind his motorcycle saddle where he keeps his helmet.

Mr. Tabichi is a Roman Catholic Franciscan brother; the motto was St. Francis’ favorite saying. But Mr. Tabichi has turned a pious greeting into a daily challenge.

He teaches math and physics to a 60-strong class of overwhelmingly poor children in a remote rural school in Kenya. The school has one desktop computer and patchy internet. But Mr. Tabichi’s kids have won national awards, and some of them have qualified to take part in an international science fair in Arizona this year.

Mr. Tabichi just won a million-dollar prize for being “the world’s best teacher.” And he is as inspired by his students as they are by him. “I am only here because of what my students have achieved,” he said. “It tells the world that they can do anything.”

Since he has always given away 80 percent of his salary, the prize is probably good news for somebody else. But his work is good news for everyone in his village.

Not just the children (though enrollment in Mr. Tabichi’s school has doubled in three years and discipline issues have fallen by 90 percent). Mr. Tabichi also teaches his students’ parents how to grow drought-resistant crops to ward off famine, and he has founded a “peace club” to encourage harmony in a district where tribal rivalries led to a massacre in 2007.

That’s a strong dose of pax et bonum. And Mr. Tabichi administers it with another saying in his Global Teacher Prize introductory video.
“To be a great teacher,” he says, “you have to do more and talk less.”

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This article appeared in the March 26, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 03/26 edition