Winners announced in $8m education prize

Hong Kong-based Yidan Prize awards Stanford professor and nonprofit CEO for innovative work in boosting learning outcomes.

A Stanford scholar and the CEO of an Indian education nonprofit have been named as winners of the 2021 Yidan Prize, the world’s largest education award, which offers a nearly $8m prize. 

Rukmini Banerji, chief executive of Pratham, which works to improve the quality of education in India, and Eric Hanushek, a professor and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, were chosen by judges for their “groundbreaking work” in advancing learning outcomes at scale.

“The quality and diversity of this year’s nominations reflect the drive and passion around the world to unlock new approaches to education,” said Koichiro Matsuura, chairman of the Yidan Prize judging committee and a former director-general of the UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO.

“They are rethinking education systems from top to bottom, tackling inequities and empowering learners,” he added.

Banerji developed the ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ model after recognising that many children were attending school, but failing to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills.  Through Pratham, she pioneered an approach of grouping children by learning level rather than age, to better plug gaps in their understanding.

The replicable model, which pivots the focus from school attendance to learning outcomes, has reached more than 60 million children in India and Africa, and is growing around the world.

“[Pratham] is a reminder that we need to focus on education quality and not just school enrolments,” judge Dorothy Gordon said in a statement. “The solutions that they have deployed towards this goal have proved to be cost-effective and scalable, with a demonstrated potential to impact globally.”

“They are rethinking education systems from top to bottom, tackling inequities and empowering learners."

Koichiro Matsuura, chairman, Yidan Prize judging committee.

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The 2021 Yidan Prize winners: Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, and Eric Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Hanushek’s work has helped reframe global targets for learning outcomes, by showing it’s how much students learn – and not how many years they spend in school – that boosts economies. 

“Like no one else, Eric has been able to link the fields of economics and education,” said judge Andreas Schleicher, who is also director of the OECD’s Directorate of Education and Skills.

This has ranged from “designing better and fairer systems for evaluating teacher performance, to linking better learning outcomes to long-run economic and social progress,” Schleicher said.

The Hong Kong-based Yidan Prize Foundation was established in 2016 by Charles Chen Yidan, a founder of Chinese tech giant Tencent, with a mission to create a better world through education. 

Now in its fifth year, the prize is designed to recognise and reward advances in education research and development, and is the largest of its kind. Winners receive HK $30m ($3.9m), half of which is awarded as a cash prize. The remaining $1.95m is given as a project fund to help expand their initiatives.

Previous winners have included Angelina Murimirwa, executive director, Africa, of education charity CAMFED, and Anant Agarwal, the founder and CEO of online learning platform edX.

All Yidan ‘laureates’ also join the Yidan Council of Luminaries, a 16-member board that works collaboratively with other education leaders to address global inequalities in learning. 

Banerji plans to use the prize funding to scale Pratham’s work with young children, while Hanushek will establish a research fellow programme in Africa. The programme will contribute to shaping education policies from a local perspective, the Yidan Prize Foundation said. - PA

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