A Kunming teacher devoted to working with teenage girls is on the verge of something extraordinary. Yang Boya (杨博雅) landed on the shortlist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize this week, one of ten finalists in the running for a US$1 million cash award and recognition as the most innovative and successful educator in the world.
Yang teaches at the Kunming Teachers College Affiliated Middle School in the heart of the city. There, in addition to instructing students in their general studies, she is also the school's de facto psychologist — a rarity and welcome luxury at any educational facility in the province. Trained at Shanghai's prestigious Huadong Normal University (华东师范大学), Yang is a licensed counselor, and has focused her time outside of the classroom on assisting young women in need, especially those from migrant family backgrounds.
Both at her school and after classes have let out, Yang helps vulnerable students by offering psychological guidance to her pupils and their parents. She stresses the development of parent-child communication skills and provides her personal services when possible, or referrals to girls in need of specific help.
Over the past three years, Yang has set up an outreach center at her workplace providing teenagers with professional advice and support. She has also formed a group of teachers at other local schools who work to implement personal and social education programs. Additionally, Yang has organized psychology education lectures at educational academies and a local prison which are estimated to have reached more than 50,000 teenagers, educators and parents.
Yang has also developed psychology courses to help raise student awareness about psychological issues and promote female empowerment. She has spoken at national conferences, been interviewed extensively in the media about her work and is a 2016 Fellow at the Harvard SEED for Social Innovation. She explained to the Varkey Foundation — sponsor of the Global Teacher Prize — that she will use the award money to "promote the integration of psychology" into educational standards locally and at a national level, saying:
"My hope is that schools can develop holistic psychological support programs for students and their parents so that they can develop as healthy individuals — not just physically, but mentally as well. This is why I love and pursue my role as a teacher and counselor.
Psychological counseling in China generally, and Yunnan specifically, is a vastly underrepresented part of the educational system, and it is for this reason that Yang's work has been singled out. She was one of 20,000 educators from 179 countries to be nominated for the prize. She is joined by nine other finalists from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Jamaica, Kenya, Pakistan and Spain.
2017 will mark the third year the Varkey Foundation — "a global charitable foundation focused on improving the standards of education for underprivileged children" — has given out the Global Teacher Prize. The recognition "seeks to acknowledge the impact of the very best teachers — not only on their students but on the communities around them". Last year, Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub won the prize, her award announced by Pope Francis. Perhaps on March 19 at the Global Education and Skills Conference in Dubai, a Kunming woman will be the next winner.
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