Earlier this week, Stephen Hawking announced the top ten finalists for the 2nd annual Global Teacher Prize. Widely referred to as the “Nobel Prize for teaching,” the award, which recognizes exceptional teachers who have made outstanding contributions to the profession, shines a spotlight on the important role educators play in society.

But the award recipient will get more than the well-deserved prestige (and bragging rights); she or he will also receive US$1 million, the largest prize of its kind.

“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,” explains Sunny Varkey, creator of the Global Teacher Prize and founder of the Varkey Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to improving the status of teachers.

The top ten finalists were narrowed down from 8,000 nominations and applications from 148 countries around the world. The teachers are being evaluated on their achievements both in the classroom and beyond, their innovative instructional practices, ensuring children receive a value-based education that prepares them to be global citizens of the world, community involvement, and encouraging others to join the teaching profession.

Among the ten finalists are four exceptional women you should know…

Robin Chaurasiya, Kranti School, India


“Where the world sees lost causes, I see revolutionary leaders.”

Robin Chaurasiya is the founder of the NGO Kranti, a school in Mumbai, India that educates and empowers the daughters of sex workers and victims of human trafficking to become “agents of social change.”

Prior to traveling to India to start Kranti, the 30-year-old from Los Angeles, CA completed a master’s degree in gender studies and served in the U.S. Air Force. In 2009, after she was expelled from the Air Force for being a lesbian, Robin joined the successful campaign to repeal the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Following that historical victory, Robin volunteered with an anti-trafficking NGO in Uganda before moving to Mumbai.

Kranti was established in 2011. The course work emphasizes music, yoga, theatre, English and the arts. Robin has also developed a social justice curriculum at the school that covers a variety of key issues that affect the girls. In 2013, they convinced a Member of Parliament to assist them in registering sex workers to vote. Robin and her girls have led workshops for more than 100,000 people and delivered 11 TEDx talks around the world.

To learn more about Robin and Kranti, check out this short documentary. Follow Kranti on Facebook.

Maarit Rossi, Paths to Math, Finland


“Math is a powerful tool that helps us make sense of the world.”

Maarit Rossi is a mathematics teacher from Finland and the founder of Paths to Math, a new math teaching and learning tool.

After attending a learning seminar at Leeds University, Maarit realized that most students found conventional math teaching uninspiring. Driven to prove that math can be stimulating and enjoyable, Maarit created a fresh approach – teaching math by asking students to solve real-life problems in fun ways. After testing her program in schools across her country, Maarit went on to co-author nine Finnish math curriculum textbooks.

Maarit’s unconventional methods have resulted in above-average mathematics scores for her school, as well as in national tests.

Along with a colleague, Maarit produced Paths to Math, a website offering math resources in three languages. She has also run a number of STEM subject projects for the Economic Information Bureau for Finnish Industry, forging close links with schools in other countries, and worked as Project Manager for the EU New Opportunities for Women program.

To learn more about Maarit and Paths to Math, check out this short documentary.

Hanan Al Hroub, Samiha Khalil School, Palestine


“We just want peace; we want our children to enjoy their childhoods in peace.” 

Hanan grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp where she was regularly exposed to acts of violence. She became a primary school educator after her children were left deeply traumatized by a shooting incident they witnessed on their way home from school. Her experiences in meetings and consultations to discuss their behavior, development and academic performance over the years that followed, inspired Hanan to help others who, having grown up in similar circumstances, require special support at school.

Hanan has outlined an approach to teaching she calls “We Play and Learn,” which focuses on developing trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students and emphasizes the importance of literacy. She encourages her students to work together, pays close attention to individual needs and rewards positive behavior. Her work has directly led to a decline in violent incidents in schools where violence is a frequent occurrence; she has inspired her colleagues to review the way they teach, their classroom management strategies and the sanctions they use.

To learn more about Hanan and her school, check out this short documentary.

Aqeela Asifi, Girls Refugee Schools, Pakistan


“If the world wants the underdeveloped countries to progress and prosper, their foremost priority should be providing access to quality education for both boys and girls.”

Aqeela trained as a teacher when education in Afghanistan was free to all, but was forced to leave her country when the Taliban took over in 1992. When she arrived as a refugee at the Kot Chandana camp in Pakistan there were no operational schools in the local area. Strongly conservative attitudes meant the education of girls was frowned upon and female teachers were unheard of.

Aqeela set up a school in a borrowed tent and worked hard to overcome the resistance and negative attitudes. She convinced twenty families to let their daughters go to school. Initially, she focused only on teaching “non-controversial” subjects such as personal hygiene, home management skills and religious education. But, after gaining the trust of the community, she was able to introduce literacy, Dari language, mathematics, geography and history. Due to a lock of funds, Aqeela had to go without blackboards and other basic teaching supplies. To make due, she stitched pieces of cloth with handwritten text to the tent walls and wrote books by hand at night. Her students traced their first words in dust on the floor.

Today, there are nine schools in the camp with many female teachers and over 1,500 students including 900 girls. With education, early and forced marriages in the community have declined. Aqeela’s school has produced over 1,000 graduates (mainly Afghan refugee girls, but also local Pakistani children). Some have become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan.

To learn more about Aqeela and Girls Refugee Schools, check out this short documentary.

View all of the other finalists here

All biographical information via The Global Teacher Prize