#TeachersMatter is the motto of the Global Teacher Prize. Ayub Mohamud, the only African finalist for the prestigious award has made it his task to tackle radicalization in his community.
India, Australia, Japan – the finalists for the Global Teacher Prize come from all corners of the world. From 8,000 entries, the US based Varkey Foundation chose ten finalists for its $1million (911,000 euro) award for excellence in teaching.
Ayub Mohamud is the only African finalist. He is a Kenyan teacher of Somali decent and has made a name for himself for his efforts to tackle the issues of radicalization and violent extremism in his community.
Changing mindsets in 'Little Mogadishu'
Based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Mohamud teaches business studies and Islamic studies at Eastleigh High School in an inner-city neighborhood that residents have dubbed 'Little Mogadishu'. It's predominantly inhabited by ethnic Somalis and Kenyan authorities have identified it as one of the main recruiting grounds for Islamist militant group al-Shabab operating in the Horn of Africa.
Mohamud originally comes from Wajir in northern Kenya, an area that generally falls short of government support and rarely gets any notice from Kenya's political elite. "I taught in Wajir and I also taught in Garissa, when you look at the schools there, there are very few school teachers and school facilities are really wanting," he told DW.
In April 2015, Garissa's university became the scene of a deadly al-Shabab attack that left 148 people dead. A group of ethnic Somalis in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighborhood directly took to the streets to demonstrate against the atrocities, yet many maintained that this was not enough. In the aftermath of the attack, Somali communities in Kenya complained that the community as a whole is being held responsible for the attacks and have therefore had to endure increased harrassment from the authorities.
Nevertheless, as a teacher of Islamic studies at his school, Mohamud says that what he teaches in class has a strong influence on his students and the choices they make in life. "As a teacher I realized that I should also be part of the solution," he said. "I try to use the school and the classroom as a safe space, so I have been trying to engage these students on bringing about a mindset change."
Outside the classroom, Mohamud established an anti-terror initiative called Teachers Against Violent Extremism and he spoke about his work at a Global Terrorism Forum in Abu Dhabi. Mohamud also helped develop guidelines for teachers on how to convey anti-radicalization messages in the classroom.
"I try to teach these students about the ideologies and propaganda used by these violent extremist groups and tell them the correct teachings of Islam vis-à-vis the propaganda," he explained. "I also teach these students about tolerance and how they can live and co-exist with other people from other faiths and from other cultures."
Many of his students, he added, are now able to challenge radical ideologies and some of them even spread the message in their communities. His students however also learn how to use their time with other activities, such as making roofing tiles from plastic bottles.
A spot in the limelight
For Mohamud, the prize would be a chance to reach more young Kenyans: "I intend to set-up a scholarship kitty where students who are bright and needy can go to school and college and then give back to the society."
The prize is only in its second year in running, but has the backing of celebrities like Salma Hayek and Matthew McConaughey, who have said they will be attending this year's award ceremony and the Varkey Foundation itself has prominent people like Africa's richest man Aliko Dangote on its board.
Last year's award went to US teacher Nancie Atwell. She was recognized for promoting creative writing amongst her students and for founding a non-profit school which takes in children from underprivileged families.