Wise Award 2021: Wendy Kopp, the activist who has recruited 100,000 charismatic college students to transform the school | Education

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American Wendy Kopp (Texas, 54 years old) received excellent training from her childhood and does not forget it. Aware of the great opportunity that life offered him, in 1989 he dedicated his final thesis at the elite Princeton University to devise a plan to create a national body of teachers that would train the most disadvantaged to be the leaders of tomorrow. Her academic work did not end in a drawer like so many, but within a few weeks she began to build the non-profit organization Teach for America, the germ of Teach for All. This ambitious project that recruits and trains teachers is already present in 61 countries through a network of autonomous entities and last Tuesday it earned Kopp the WISE 2021 prize for educational innovation from the Qatar Foundation, advertised as “the nobel of the education ”and endowed with $ 500,000 (just over 441,000 euros).

If Wall Street recruits the best students, why not teaching? Kopp wondered. That summer of 1989, the activist met with philanthropists, educators and everyone who wanted to listen. And from the beginning his idea caught on. It was able to raise just over 2.2 million euros and recruited 400 new teachers who trusted in its purpose. In the United States now there are 5,000, but if you count those committed in the 61 countries, the figure of 100,000 university graduates is reached in 31 years (in the last 14, with expansion throughout the world). Teachers commit to teaching for at least two years and 75%, according to their calculations, continue for a long time in teaching or working against inequality in other fields.

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“The social pressure for university students to pursue a professional career is enormous, which is why the selection process for professors made by our partners is difficult and almost aggressive. There is family pressure, especially for students in the technology sector and among those who come from poor backgrounds and have managed to study, ”says Kopp at the educational meeting in Doha, which EL PAÍS attends at the invitation of the organization. In Finland and Singapore, where the teaching profession is highly regarded and salaries are acceptable, being selected is an honor reserved for very few brilliant graduates, but it is rare. In the country of Kopp, the United States, 70% of teachers feel “frustrated and stressed,” according to a 2017 Yale University survey.

What is Kopp’s recipe for enlisting charismatic graduates? “Good students are convinced with the message that it is a great opportunity to change the world, to impact society and have responsibilities very early in their careers. They are told that they are joining a force of leaders who share their conviction in the need to change the system ”, he explains about his method, which in 2007 began to be exported around the world. In Spain they are present through the NGO Empieza por Educar, which according to the entity has worked with 50,000 children in 10 years.

Kopp optimistically argues that the mindset of graduates is changing: “In my generation, people only thought about making a lot of money and now a lot of promising kids want to transform the world. The challenge is to reach them when consultants, banks are interested … I think that the priorities of this generation have changed and that is invaluable ”. The activist maintains that “there have always been people willing to be part of something that makes a difference and organizations like ours give them that opportunity”, but now, more than ever, the challenges “of inequality, public health, sustainability, of Justice…”. And to deal with them, he thinks, you need people “with critical thinking and empathy.”

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Training for two years

Teach for all does not finance organizations, but in each country the entities seek funds from foundations, individuals or the Administration. And the recruitment of teachers, who are trained for one summer and supported for two years with a professional development program, is tailored to each location. “During those two years the teachers are very focused on the boys in their class and their goals, and they themselves undergo a transformation when they see the potential of their students, which leads them to seek solutions to that inequality.”

The ideal teacher does not have to be, for Kopp, the one with the best grades in the race. “The best leaders are capable of working with their students, their families and the community with a clear vision, optimizing the available resources. That is why we are looking for potential leaders who are persistent in challenges, with the ability to motivate or encourage others or to solve problems ”, he enumerates. And she’s excited about the response she’s received from around the world. “For example, from Chile a whole movement has started in Latin America. What is needed is people determined to do something similar in their countries and we help them, integrating their organization into our network ”, he continues. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Richard Barth, who runs an educational foundation (KIPP), and their four children, but the organization does not have a headquarters. “We have 150 people traveling the world, a global team. Until the pandemic, I traveled a lot, “he recalls.

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A Unesco report this week estimates that countries have allocated just 3% of the extra funds destined to face the pandemic to education, a percentage that worries Kopp a lot. But it is positive, not only because of the involvement of the new generations who teach, but also because of the inspiring pedagogical innovations to unleash the potential of schoolchildren: “This generation has the skills to remake the world.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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