Johannesburg teacher named in top 10 for global teaching award

Marjorie Brown has been named in the top 10 of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. Image:
Marjorie Brown has been named in the top 10 of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. Image:

If we let our fellow South Africans down‚ we are sitting on a ticking time bomb‚ says Marj Brown from the Roedean School in Johannesburg.

Brown has been named in the top 10 of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.

“We owe it to the youth of our country to be given hope and to do something about their future‚” Brown said on Thursday.

“It’s incredible because we are so busy. We carry on teaching‚ marking and doing projects and then this thing kind of happened. I never expected to get this far and it’s an incredible privilege and honour.”

Billionaire Bill Gates announced the top 10 earlier this week. () He said they received about 30‚000 applications from across the world. The prize money is $1 million that will be paid out in 10 installments over 10 years.

Brown has been a teacher for 24 years and for six years at Roedean. She is the head of history and teaches the subject from Grade 8 to matric.

She helped grow the international Kids’ Lit Quiz in South Africa that was founded 26 years ago. South Africa has won it three times over the past 13 years. Brown currently works with about 100 schools on the quiz. She also introduced the Phendulani literacy quiz in poorer schools without functioning libraries.

“I do all of this in my spare time‚ so it’s a little bit mal (crazy).”

Brown believes poor literacy is the biggest challenge facing South African education‚ because it affects every subject.

“We cannot level the playing field until people can read and read with understanding‚” Brown said.

“You can’t get off first base without literacy and it just locks you into a world of ignorance and manual labour.”

Almost four in five Grade 4 pupils fall below the lowest internationally recognised level of reading literacy‚ according to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) released in December last year. South Africa came last out of the 50 countries where the study was conducted. 

Brown was previously a human rights activist and worked for rights group Black Sash. She was ready to return to teaching when her third child was about to start school.

“Before that my kids just stood there in protest with me. I had written books‚ written policy documents and breastfeeding along the side. They were just part of the struggle‚ all of the time‚ with me.”

Brown remains motivated by feeding off her peers and the learners.

“I feel if you want to be part of the solution‚ there is no sense of despondency. I think it is when people are doing nothing and sit and look at the big issue‚ and of kind of think‚ ‘It’s like a tidal wave.’ If you’re hacking away you have a sense of hope‚ because you can see‚ in your sphere of interests‚ you can see results‚” said Brown.

“I can’t take on all the problems of our country‚ but I can make a difference in a small way.”

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