UK Cypriot teacher Andria Zafirakou who was voted the most outstanding teacher in the world this year will give the $1 million global teaching prize which came with the award to get more artists into UK schools by founding a non-profit organisation.
Surrounded by her students, colleagues, family members and supporters including historian Simon Schama, author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, musician Naughty Boy and artist Mark Wallinger, she launched her charity, Artists in Residence, on Tuesday.
Zafirakou, who was born in London to a Greek Cypriot mother and a Greek father, made her announcement in Alperton community school in Brent where she works as an art teacher.
“This is our time, this is the time for the arts, we are going to make a change and do something quite incredible,” she said. “I knew what I had to do, I had to start a mission, a crusade, to help fix a mess, to raise the profile of arts in our schools,” the 39-year-old teacher said during the event.
The role of the organisation will be to bring together artists with schools so that students can be inspired and develop their creativity.
Zafirakou hopes to sign up artists and arts organisations who will work with schools for fixed periods, whether for a day or a full academic year.
“I get schools, I know the problems they have and I know the language of schools,” she explained. “I know that many artists cannot get into schools because of logistical problems.”
She said subjects such as art, music and drama were being squeezed out of the curriculum at a time when they are important.
“They’re not only essential for personal growth and self-understanding but they also teach young people to think creatively, learn to communicate effectively and build resilience. All these skills will be important for the jobs that they are likely to do when they leave school.”
The programme will be piloted in 30 schools from less developed communities in London. It will then be extended to the whole of London and to schools across the UK.
Asked why she did not choose to use her Varkey Foundation money for herself and her family, as there were no strings attached to it, Zafirakou said she could not use the money as if it had come from gambling or a lottery.
“This is something I won because I am a teacher, so it is right to give it back to the profession,” she said.
Zafirakou made her second visit to Cyprus in May this year after she was invited by the government. She said she considers the island her second home.
The first time, she said, she visited the island as a student to see Lefkara embroidery. She has roots from Yalousa in the north from where her grandmother and grandfather came, but also from Famagusta, her mother’s birthplace. The Greek she speaks was taught to her by her parents and her grandmother.
She was honoured at a special ceremony by Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris on May 29 in Nicosia.