Top 10 shortlist for

Overcoming Adversity

Discover the schools named in the Top 10 shortlist for the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity  

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About the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity

From resilience to child empowerment. From opportunity to inclusivity. From independent learning to leadership. Recognising the schools which are strengthening their students while succeeding in powering through challenges by any of these means and beyond.

Meet the Top 10 shortlisted schools

Amani School for Refugees

📍 Kakuma, Kenya

Best Intellectuals Model School

📍 Aba Abia State, Nigeria

Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos

📍 Cabrobó, Brazil

Marcus Garvey Technical High School

📍 St. Ann, Jamaica

Pinelands North Primary School

📍 Cape Town, South Africa

Project Shelter Wakadogo

📍 Gulu, Uganda

Samaritan Mission School (High)

📍 Howrah, India

SMK Kampong Jawa

📍 Selangor, Malaysia

St Edward's Primary School

📍 Tamworth, Australia

West End Primary

📍 Mitchells Plain, South Africa

Diseño sin título (9)
Amani School for Refugees

📍 Kakuma, Kenya

👥 Under 100 kindergarten and primary students

Giving displaced children a quality education

Amani School for Refugees, a charity-based teacher training college and primary school in Kakuma, Kenya is run by a group of volunteers who were themselves refugees. The initiative was the result of a community effort to give children in the Kakuma refugee camp the education their teachers received.

Aiming to be something of a haven for refugee children who have endured considerable emotional and mental trauma, the school provides lessons in numeracy and equips illiterate students with the tools to read and write fluently. 

Initiated by INVER Empowering Refugees, an organisation that works to nurture the resilience and wellbeing of refugees, the school has been in operation for over four years. At first, classes would begin in homes and eventually lessons were held in the two classrooms that INVER Empowering Refugees built to accommodate the needs of the staff and students. The organisation helps keep the school running through small donations that are used to buy course materials.  

The school has 80 children from multiple nationalities who are currently attending remedial classes and they are also connected with international teachers to equip them with knowledge and skills centred on the UN Sustainable Development Goals to help them become global citizens.

If Amani School for Refugees were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the prize money to obtain learning devices for its students and update its facilities so it can allow more children into its programme. It would also set up a secondary school for older children in the Kakuma refugee camp. 

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Best Intellectuals Model School

📍 Aba Abia State, Nigeria

🏫 Private/Independent school

👥 101 to 200 pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, primary and secondary students

How a viral music video boosted morale at a time of turmoil

Best Intellectuals Model School, a school in Ohanku, Aba Abia State, Nigeria made a music video to boost student morale during a period of turmoil that rocked Nigerian society and it went viral in the process. 

In 2021, the school faced many crises. Not only did it have to contend with the COVID pandemic, but a wave of school drop-outs owing to the financial strain brought by the pandemic on so many families. With the country also experiencing a high unemployment rate and a marked increase in crime, the conditions Best Intellectuals Model School faced forced it to reevaluate how it would continue to open its doors and keep up the morale of demoralised students and the wider community. It decided to use the healing power of music. 

The people in the local community were known to love music and were even more receptive when children were involved. The school hoped that a music video using its younger students would reach the hearts and minds of the people within the community and address some of society’s ills. But it faced numerous challenges along the way. 

First the students’ safety was a priority. The school staff provided children with face masks and made sure they observed social distancing. They didn’t have a school bus to get to the nearest studio, so they had to traverse the dirt roads, eventually getting to the studio with soiled clothes. They would have to clean off before recording and shooting the footage for the video. They didn’t have instruments, so they used music from online. In the end, the hard work paid off and the video was considered a viral hit amongst the community. 

If Best Intellectuals Model School were to the win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the money to strengthen its educational model and build a new school complex with labs for ICT and science classes. 

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Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos

📍 Cabrobó, Brazil

🏫 Government school

👥 101 to 200 primary students

Improving education by empowering students’ mothers

Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos in Cabrobó, Brazil, helps to improve its students’ education by taking the innovative step of teaching their parents as well. 

Over time, Evandro Ferreira dos Santos found that its pupils, aged 11 - 15 years old, were struggling with their education in part because their parents received little to no education and so were not able to engage with their studies or help with their homework. Very few parents could read or write. Often, when official school documents needed a signature, a stamp in the form of a fingerprint would be used instead. The situation made it hard for students to feel motivated in their schoolwork when they came home and many even took on the role of caring for their younger siblings or performing household chores, leaving little time for their studies. 

So Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos came up with a project that went straight to the root of the problem with a new programme to help parents progress to complete formal education. It focused on helping mothers first. Classes would take place every week, slowly nurturing and emboldening the ambitions of women who believed it was too late to change their personal circumstances. By the end of 2021, the project started to bear fruit; mothers who found themselves unable to write their own name were able to apply their signatures on official documents and started to respond in WhatsApp study groups. 

The school was guided by the idea that it's possible to help foster greater inclusion by helping women become literate, thereby giving them the confidence to pursue their long-held dreams. 

If Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would continue to invest in the community surrounding the school. It will hold lectures on the importance of education in the lives of parents and children. It will promote computer courses so that families are also included in the digital universe, learning to prepare their own curricula to get formal employment, and developing skills in the electronic media. It will develop projects aimed at entrepreneurship, such as courses of interest to mothers, such as manicures, hairdressing, and sewing. And it will eradicate illiteracy so that families continue to study and motivate their children to pursue a successful academic career.

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Diseño sin título (29)
Marcus Garvey Technical High School

📍 St. Ann, Jamaica

🏫 Government school

👥 1501 to 2000 secondary students

How to tackle a culture of violence in school

Marcus Garvey Technical High School, a co-ed secondary school in the parish of St Ann, Jamaica once had a culture of underperformance that stemmed from violence and poverty. This saw many students being frequently absent and several expelled for fighting, but the school’s leadership has turned its fortunes around to become one of the best schools in the region for innovations in student engagement. 

At one point outbreaks of fighting amongst the school’s students had become so notorious that the local hospital  was frequently visited to treat injuries. Over a number of years, many students were largely unmotivated, and often disengaged with their studies, while many parents rarely got involved in the school. This resulted in underperformance.

It was only when Marcus Garvey Technical High School underwent a transformation, which started under the helm of Principal Monica McIntyre in 2014, that the culture of the high school started to shift in a positive direction. In 2018, the school started a new thrust - “Don’t Suspend Me” under the leadership of new principal Anniona Jones. It counteracted the fighting with a series of motivational talks and interventions by the Dean of Discipline. The guidance counselling unit helped connect with students including at home. Another approach was through sports and other activities, encouraging students to participate in football, table tennis and quizzes to keep them occupied and allowing them to communicate in healthier ways. Finally, the school took strides in creating online learning opportunities, special curriculum interventions for weak students, and developing a stronger relationship with parents, using WhatsApp and Facebook Live to keep them abreast of their children’s progress. Parents could even contact the principal directly on her personal mobile number. 

If Marcus Garvey Technical High School were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the funds to sponsor projects to help equip its students to excel in other areas of their lives as well as their studies in traditional subjects. 

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Diseño sin título (10)
Pinelands North Primary School

📍 Cape Town, South Africa

🏫 Government school

👥 301 to 500 primary students 

Why inclusivity is everything

Pinelands North Primary School in Cape Town, South Africa, is recognised as one of the country’s leading institutions when it comes to fostering inclusivity in education. When its principal, Ann Morton, took up the role in 1997, South Africa was emerging from the shadow of Apartheid, and the student population of her school was still predominantly white. Today Pinelands is a beacon of diversity. 

The ethos of Pinelands North centres on building relationships within the school’s community and breaking down barriers. Creating an inclusive environment allows for a sense of belonging for families who don't fit a traditional and normative family structure.

All pupils, male or female, wear the same uniforms – shorts and t-shirts, which are designed to be less traditional and more comfortable. The school has brought in gender neutral bathrooms and everyone, including teachers, is addressed by their first name. From Grade 2, students are taught sign language. When the school accepted its first transgender pupil, it provided guidance for families about gender identities and trained staff through workshops on how to guide parents to adapt to the school’s new policies.

This philosophy extends to animal welfare: students are encouraged to take care of animals and view them as part of the family. A programme was set up for pupils to volunteer to be “animal monitors” and help coach each other on how best to handle the animals under their care. 

In the wake of the pandemic, Pinelands North’s governing body quickly implemented a fund to assist families who were struggling financially, had all staff participate in bereavement and trauma training to better support pupils and parents during COVID and opened an online school for students who could no longer attend classes in person. 

If Pinelands North were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity it would use the funds to expand its online school and buy a property close to the school’s premises so it can create a hybrid programme. This would allow an additional 100 students from across all communities to have a vibrant school experience, participating in sporting activities and other extra curriculars.

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Project Shelter Wakadogo

📍 Gulu, Uganda

🏫 Charity school

👥 301 to 500 pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and primary students

Rising from the ashes of civil war to become a beacon for the community

Project Shelter Wakadogo in Gulu, Uganda, has flourished from a school with only two classrooms founded in the wake of war to now educating over 450 children with one of the highest student retention rates in the country.

In the aftermath of two decades of civil war and the violence committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which displaced over a million people in Northern Uganda, families in the village of Pece Acoyo in Gulu were slowly returning to their homes. Amongst the wreckage left by the war, calls for a safe, quality school began to grow. Through a large community effort Project Shelter Wakadogo was born - land was procured, roads leading to the school were levelled and vegetables were planted to be used for school meals. In 2009, the school opened. The name Wakadogo reflects the school’s mission to extend a duty of care to those who walked through its doors, meaning ‘for the little ones’ in Swahili. 

Its commitment to provide free school meals, healthcare and a quality education for the surrounding community, has seen the school become a second home for many. 

When Uganda imposed a long lockdown during the pandemic, Project Shelter Wakadogo quickly determined that online schooling wouldn’t be possible for its students. In Uganda, only 2% of the population has access to personal computers and less than 9% of the rural population has access to the internet. Instead, Project Shelter Wakadogo pivoted to conducting 36,000 home-schooling lessons during the pandemic. This dedication to continue to provide education to its students was crucial as the school closures across Uganda saw children forced into the labour market, a rise in teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence.

If Project Shelter Wakadogo were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would offer more scholarships for marginalised and underprivileged children in the community. It will also use the funds to set up an online learning platform to facilitate hybrid and catch-up learning, in case schools should ever close again, and share its approach and technology where possible with schools in the region. It would also use the funds to continue to provide mid-morning porridge and midday meals to its students as most in the wider community live on one meal a day.

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Diseño sin título (31)
Samaritan Mission School (High)

📍 Howrah, India

🏫 Private/Independent school

👥 2000+ pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, primary and secondary students

Tackling deprivation in a slum community

Samaritan Mission School (High), a school in Howrah, India, is located in the Tikiapara Slum, which has long been prone to poverty, inadequate sanitation, overcrowded households, poor health, domestic violence, and is vulnerable to natural disasters. The school came into being with a vision to address the prevailing community issues through education and holistic development.

For many years, education was dismissed within the wider community as families prioritised earning a wage, often asking their children to work alongside them. The school introduced an effective pedagogy based on integrating technology in education, encouraging self-learning, and self-reliance. The school also organises visits to institutions such as banks, the municipal office, and health centres to give students a bigger picture of society and encourage them to want to contribute to it. The school conducts science workshops, quizzes and cultural programs to enhance the spirit of learning through co-creation and cooperative learning practices.

The school initiated community development programmes and worked to unite people of different socio-economic backgrounds and help slum residents realise the need for communal harmony. 

Major concerns such as sanitation, safe drinking water, cleaning of drains and the enrolment of students are addressed by the community volunteers, who work closely with every party involved to find a beneficial solution. In the case of domestic violence and child marriage, staff at Samaritan Mission School (High) hold interventions, and in the past few years the rate of domestic abuse in the community had significantly decreased. The school also works with women from vulnerable backgrounds to develop skills that could help them gain employment. Community members have also been connected to different government programmes and initiatives that help grant financial aid, lessening the burden on families to get financial support from the school directly.

The school’s efforts to improve education has led to it having nearly 50% female students, a 98% retention rate, and 100% of students have been successful in 10th and 12th grade board examinations in recent years.

If Samaritan Mission School (High) were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the funds the help buy stationery, books and other support materials for students who don’t have the finances or means to acquire it themselves.

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Diseño sin título (32)
SMK Kampong Jawa

📍 Selangor, Malaysia

🏫 Government school

👥 2000+ secondary students

How a marginalised school’s fortunes can be turned around

SMK Kampong Jawa, a secondary school in Klang, Malaysia, was once in the bottom two out of the thirty-eight schools in the Klang district for its academic results, but has since seen its scores improve by 20% and it was given an award for the highest online attendance during the pandemic. 

In 2017, the body of a murdered woman was discovered outside SMK Kampong Jawa, a sign of how bad things had become for the school. With a student body where 75% of its pupils come from families with lower household incomes, SMK Kampong Jawa was once associated with urban poverty, poor attendance and had lost the trust of the local community. In the past, its classrooms were marked by vandalism, theft was commonplace and vulnerable students were often groomed into local gangs. When the school requested funding from sponsors to purchase better equipment in 2017, it was denied. A year later, the school’s academic results were low – just 59% of its students obtained their leaving school qualifications. 

But in 632 days SMK Kampong Jawa managed to turn hardship into success. The catalyst for that change came with the appointment of a new principal in August 2020 who helped redirect the school policies to align with his vision for change. Under his helm, SMK Kampong Jawa embarked on an intensive data-driven approach to attendance and made over 500 phone calls to parents to learn more about students and their home environments. For those that still didn’t attend class, school counsellors would make home visits themselves. 

With its intensive research underway, SMK Kampong Jawa designed online classes that experimented with breakout rooms and collaborative learning structures that offered close peer-to-peer support and ensured small group sessions were productive and engaging. Online attendance and academic results started to improve. The school also focused on the challenges some of its students were facing and began networking with local charities to help those who were struggling financially. In one case, SMK Kampong Jawa was able to help a student’s family move to a better home. The school looks to continue to provide face-to-face and virtual lessons in its classrooms as the pandemic continues.

If SMK Kampong Jawa were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the funds to buy a PA system, smart HD televisions and upgrade its Wi-Fi coverage throughout the school. To better accommodate students who are visually impaired, the funds would also be used to buy a new braille machine.

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St Edward's Primary School

📍 Tamworth, Australia

🏫 Private/Independent school

👥 501 to 1000 primary students

How personal learning plans can help disadvantaged students beat the odds

St Edward’s Primary School, a private Catholic institution in Tamworth, Australia - where 67% of its students hail from disadvantaged backgrounds, 16% are Indigenous, and the neighbourhood faces challenges from crime and poor health - has defied low expectations to significantly boost attainment. 

St Edward’s has a focus on developing the whole child. It provides its students with a range of cultural opportunities, in particular for its Indigenous students, who are encouraged to share and celebrate their culture with the support of its Aboriginal Education Assistants. 

The school became concerned by its low ICSEA score, which measures socioeconomic advantage and came up with extensive and highly detailed Personal Learning Plans (PLPs). The PLPs armed teachers with the data to track and support student progress, providing tailored instruction for their students and monitoring their growth. Over time, teachers were able to push students closer to achieving their educational goals. During COVID, the school continued with the model with a few tweaks by checking in on its students through phone calls and by monitoring them online.

Each teacher also has a professional growth plan that pushes them to become a better educator than they were yesterday. They also take a range of professional learning activities including reviewing professional journals, trying out new practices in the classroom and joining professional organisations. All that effort has paid off as not only did attainment levels increase, but some of the highest growth in improvement came from Indigenous students. 

If St Edward’s Primary School were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the funds to set up a teaching school to help develop the skills and abilities of educators in rural and regional areas who have struggled to gain access to development opportunities.

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West End Primary

📍 Mitchells Plain, South Africa

🏫 Government school

👥 1501 to 2000 primary students

Challenging students to dream beyond their circumstances

West End Primary in Mitchells Plain, South Africa, is situated in the heart of the Cape Flats in the Western Cape. This area is renowned for the challenging circumstances of the community due to poverty, unemployment, gangsterism and substance abuse.

Having opened its doors in 1981, West End Primary has taught students of colour throughout its history and has felt the weight of the country’s struggle against the legacy of Apartheid. One of the school’s teachers at that time was arrested and incarcerated on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. Most of its students come from families that were directly impacted by the policies imposed during Apartheid and to this day the legacy of Apartheid has continued to affect the community that the school is serving."

The school has initiated the “Box of Hope” project, by having parents, staff and community members donating much needed items to impoverished learners and families. This was done to support the learners by making sure they were taken care of not only at school, but by having a meal when they go home as well. Teachers also bought clothes, toys, toiletries and money for learners to go on educational excursions.

The range of initiatives the school launched has sought to challenge students to dream beyond their individual circumstance and become passionate in their endeavours. The staff noted they could do this through the power of extra-curricular and extra mural activities. The past years, the school has produced a number of learners who have excelled in sport (receiving provincial and national colours) and academic achievements, become published authors and gained leadership skills. Over time, the bonds created helped improve learners’ attitudes towards themselves and their studies, allowing them to build their self-confidence.

If West End Primary were to win the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it would use the money to improve and expand initiatives they already have in place as well as implement and initiate new projects. They would also use the prize funds and donations to invest in improving the athletics track, purchasing arts and craft equipment, investing in a sound system for the school hall and improving resources for teaching and learning. The school has also been identified as a pilot school in the community that will introduce Coding and Robotics to the learners who will be able to be skilled for the 4th industrial revolution.

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