News ≫ Sri Lankan born Australian among the top ten for $1 million Global Teacher Prize

Sri Lankan born Australian among the top ten for $1 million Global Teacher Prize

Feb 25, 2019
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Sri Lankan-born Australian teacher Yasodai Selvakumaran has been named a finalist for the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. According to Australian media reports Australian actor Hugh Jackman did the honors, announcing the list of 10 from a field of 10,000 applicants spanning 179 countries. The actor known for his role as Wolverine in X-Men said teachers are “the real superheroes…the ones that change the world.”

Yasodai Selvakumaran – fondly known as Ms Selva to her humanities students at Rooty Hill High School – has made the final shortlist for the 2019 Global Teaching Prize. More than 10,000 teachers from around the world were nominated, but Ms Selvakumaran was the only Australian to make the top 10.

At a school where more than half the students come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Ms Selvakumaran said inclusive teaching is vital. “Something I really strive for with my students is for them to understand they have a place in the world and to help them find their voice,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to teach the humanities, and it’s so important for students to see that Australia is multicultural and they do belong here.”

Ms Selvakumaran is not the first Australian to make it this far, with Sydney maths teacher and YouTube sensation Eddie Woo getting to the same stage last year. This year, Ms Selvakumaran’s fellow top 10 teachers hail from all around the globe, with educators from Japan, Brazil, India, Georgia, The Netherlands, the UK, and the USA also making the final cut. The winner will take home $1 million in prize money to use towards an innovative education project of their choice.

Born in Sri Lanka, Ms Selvakumaran’s Tamil family moved to Australia when she was 10 months old and quickly settled in the western NSW town of Hay. She said the motivation to become a teacher was inspired by the high value placed on education in her family and community.

“I’ve always come from a family that values education above everything, so when I told my parents I wanted to go into teaching, they were thrilled,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t just about teaching for me. It was about pursuing history and promoting that all stories are important.” The head teacher at Rooty Hill High, Thelma Vuki, said it is her ability to connect with students from all backgrounds that makes Ms Selvakumaran unique.

“More than 50 per cent of our students are from non-English speaking backgrounds, so her ability to connect with these students and use examples from their context is what sets her apart as a teacher,” Ms Vuki said.

“Here at Rooty Hill, even though we’re in Western Sydney, we project ourselves as innovative and as a school that tries to be the best it can be.” Ms Selva will travel to Dubai in March where she will meet her fellow nominees and learn who is crowned the winner of this year’s Global Teaching Prize.

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