Vietnamese ethnic teacher in Top 10 finalist for Global Teacher Prize

The Varkey Foundation has just announced Ha Anh Phuong from Vietnam as the final Top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020. Phuong works in a remote, mountainous high school where more than 90 per cent of her students are ethnic minorities aged 15 to 18 and have little chance to practice English.

Ha Anh Phuong introduced a borderless classroom model, where through technology her students now connect to schools all over the world, helping to improve their English, confidence and cultural awareness.

The Global Teacher Prize is a USD 1 million award, presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. The Varkey Foundation established the prize in 2014, to recognise and celebrate the impact that teachers have around the world – not only on their students, but on the communities around them.

Born in 1991 in a mountainous district of Phu Tho province, Phuong first became aware of teachers’ potential to make a difference through a Vietnamese film she saw in her youth, in which the teacher character visits homes located along dangerous mountain paths to persuade parents to allow their children to go to school rather than stay at home and work in the mountains. After getting her master’s degree in English, Phuong recognised that becoming a teacher of English was the best way to improve people’s lives, and decided to return to her home region to make it happen.

Today, Phuong is an ethnic minority English Language high school teacher, living and working in a mountainous area where many people cannot get a good education for both economic and geographical reasons. The institution she works at, Huong Can High School, is located in an area of Phu Tho province where more than 90 per cent of the students are ethnic minorities aged 15 to 18. In this remote, mountainous high school in the north of Vietnam, students have little chance to practice English with foreigners. In many cases this leads to low language competence, shyness, poor intercultural awareness, and lack of interest.

Ha Anh Phuong has helped her students meet this challenge through technology: employing the “ borderless classroom model”, she connects her students with other schools worldwide via Skype. Some of her innovations have significantly improved student outcomes and are clearly seen in their national exam results: last school year, all of her students who were previously low-achieving in English Language passed the final exam (100%). Well known as the “4.0 innovative teacher” in Vietnam, she has now taught students online from four continents (Africa, Europe, Asia, and America), and is an active member of an educational Microsoft community that gathers global teachers to design lessons and engage in weekly professional development. Her work has been covered extensively by the Vietnamese national media, and in 2019, she was awarded the Innovative and Creative Teacher prize by Vietnam’s Department of Education and Training.

Known as the “4.0 innovative teacher” Ha Anh Phuong collaborates with other English teachers in Asia, Africa, the US and Europe to connect her ethnic minority students with their students via Skype and Zoom and also administers a Facebook group to share these experiences in professional development activities as a global teacher.

If she wins the Global Teacher Prize, Phuong would identify and support sustainable development school projects that are in need of financial assistance. In the long term, she would donate a computer lab to her school to provide better opportunities for students to access global knowledge. She would also create a free English learning app where any students can easily access study resources.

Earlier in the year Phuong received a full scholarship from the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Programme (SEAYLP) and was also recognised as a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Expert.

Tu Pham