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Winners announced in world’s biggest education prize

Laureates honoured for pioneering innovations in teaching and learning

The Yidan Prize Foundation has announced the 2020 laureates of the Yidan Prize, the largest international award in the field of education and worth millions of dollars to its winners.

The Yidan Prize for Education Research was awarded to Carl Wieman, professor of physics and a professor at the Graduate School of Education and DRC chair at Stanford University in the United States. Prof Wieman is considered the world’s foremost scholar on college science teaching, with his research on active learning preparing the next generation of students to be more scientifically literate. 

Prof Wieman established and directed the Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia, leading to widespread research-based improvement in university teaching and transforming the way science is taught in major universities. His education tool, Physics Education Technology Interactive Simulations, provides free STEM-related simulations to support the learning of secondary and undergraduate college students around the world. 

The Yidan Prize for Education Development was won by Lucy Lake, chief executive officer, CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education), and Angeline Murimirwa, executive director – Africa, for their work to support marginalised girls’ education. 

The organisation has already supported 4.1 million students to attend primary and secondary school across Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and helped six million students to benefit from an improved education environment. 

Dr Koichiro Matsuura, chairman of the Yidan Prize judging committee

“We are thrilled and deeply honoured to receive the Yidan Prize for Education Development in recognition of CAMFED’s work,” said Ms Lake. “This Prize spotlights the power of our growing movement led by young women who are the experts on what it takes for the most marginalised girls to succeed. Together, we will launch our ambition to support five million girls in school, and it will be game-changing!” 

“This is a dream come true, especially at a time such as this,” added Ms Murimirwa. “Thank you to the Yidan Prize Foundation for putting your faith in us. Together, we will ensure more girls’ and young women’s dreams come true too. Together, we are going to make this world an even better place.”

“I am thrilled and honoured to have the work of my research group recognised in this way,” Prof Wieman said on news of his award. “This prize will accelerate our efforts to improve education for students throughout the world.”

Established in 2016 by Dr Charles Chen Yidan, a core founder of Chinese tech giant Tencent, the Hong Kong-based Yidan Prize Foundation has a mission to create a better world through education. 

Every year, Yidan Prize laureates are each presented with a gold medal. In addition, a total of HK$30 million (around US$3.9 million) of prize funds is awarded to the individual or team (shared equally) from each category – half as a cash prize and half in the form of a project fund managed by the foundation. 

At the heart of the prize is a transformative agenda – the idea of creating a better world through education

 

“The Yidan Prize attracts high-quality, active educator candidates in research and development from more than 100 countries and regions,” said Dr Koichiro Matsuura, chairman of the Yidan Prize judging committee and former director-general of UNESCO.

Dorothy K Gordon, lead judge for the Yidan Prize for Education Development

“We attract candidates that are passionate about introducing positive change in learning and the science of education to help children, young adults and adults across the globe to access high-quality education.” 

With the Yidan Prize now in its fourth year, the 2020 laureates were chosen from candidates hailing from countries and regions including the US, United Kingdom, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Fiji, Greece and every corner of the globe, highlighting the growing clout of the award on the international stage and the foundation’s resolve to transcend racial, religious, economic and national boundaries.

Candidates’ projects spanned a wide range of global trends in education, including education for sustainable development, education for women and girls, skills for work and life, and lifelong learning systems, among other critical fields.

“At the heart of the prize is a transformative agenda – the idea of creating a better world through education,” said Dorothy K Gordon, head of Yidan Prize for Education Development judging panel, and chair of UNESCO’s ‘Information for All’ programme. “The laureate should have demonstrated innovation in designing and putting into practice an idea that successfully addresses pressing challenges in the field of education."

“It should be something that can be seen as a model, that other people can be inspired by, learn from, improve further upon and which can make a contribution to that ultimate goal of creating a better world through education in a sustainable way.”

Andreas Schleicher, lead judge for the Yidan Prize for Education Research

Leading the judging panel for the Yidan Prize for Education Research, Andreas Schleicher stressed a desire not only to reward past achievement but also to encourage and fund future excellence.

“It’s ultimately about a big idea that can transform education, found through systematic and scientific study,” said Mr Schleicher, director for the OECD’s Directorate of Education and Skills. “To be considered for the Yidan Prize, research also needs to be future-oriented, [to] help advance education to new frontiers.

“It needs to be innovative and inspiring, to connect the dots where new insights for educational practice and policy come from. And it needs to be sustainable, in the sense that the ideas can take deep roots in support of long-term educational improvement.” 

 

For real-world examples, Mr Schleicher pointed to 2019 Education Research laureate, Professor Usha Goswami of the University of Cambridge. Mr Schleicher praised her “ground-breaking research on neuroscience” that “not only provided a foundation for understanding the nature of learning but also helped educators find ways to address developmental dyslexia”.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG, founder and chair emeritus of BRAC (formerly known as Building Resources Across Communities), was also recognised as the Education Development laureate last year for his innovative work on play initiative through Play Labs that allow the poorest and most vulnerable children to obtain high-quality and low-cost early childhood education.

 

Education itself is not an end goal, it is an on-going process to help mankind pursue long-term individual well-being.

 

Other past winners of the Yidan Prize for Education Research, Professor Larry Hedges (2018) and Professor Carol S Dweck (2017), and the Yidan Prize for Education Development, Professor Anant Agarwal (2018) and Ms Vicky Colbert (2017), further demonstrate the many ways that innovation is transforming the future of education.

With the coronavirus pandemic running rampant across the globe, Dr Matsuura said 2020 held challenges for Yidan Prize judges, who would normally meet in person to discuss candidates. This year they conferred online due to travel restrictions. 

However, the dramatic impact of Covid-19 on education also “highlighted the importance of educators, philanthropists and the private sector in providing education to learners worldwide”, he argued, adding: “The Yidan Prize Foundation has joined the UNESCO Global Education Coalition for Covid-19 Response to protect the right to education during unprecedented disruption and beyond.”

Dr Chen’s dedication to education philanthropy was inspired by his illiterate grandmother, who – while living through war, famine and poverty in China – raised his father to become the first college graduate in their village. Her belief in the value of learning paved the way for Dr Chen’s education and subsequent entrepreneurial success.

“I believe, in the future, education will continue to evolve alongside technological breakthrough and social change, and we will have deeper understanding on education,” Dr Chen said. “Education itself is not an end goal, it is an on-going process to help mankind pursue long-term individual well-being and sustainable social development.” 

Ms Lake, Ms Murimirwa and Professor Wieman will accept their honours at the Yidan Prize Awards Presentation Ceremony and the Yidan Prize Annual Summit, which will be held virtually on December 7 and attended by distinguished guests.

“Although humankind has been teaching for as long as there have been children, modern research on learning is revealing much more effective ways to teach the complex thinking and problem solving that is valuable for all in the modern world,” said Prof Wieman. 

“The advancement and application of this research offers enormous potential benefits to humanity, and it is admirable that the Yidan Prize Foundation is playing such a major role in making this happen.”