The World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity recognises and celebrates schools that see adversity, challenges, and/or obstacles as an opportunity to learn and grow, shaping in students, and their community, a positive mental outlook of themselves and their future, taking ownership of their circumstances, and becoming resilient.

Discover the winning and shortlisted schools that have triumphed over significant challenges, showcasing the strength of education and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Cadoxton Primary School

Barry, Wales, UK

The school that launched ‘pay as you feel’ food shops across South Wales to tackle food poverty

Cadoxton Primary, a state school in Barry, Wales, UK, has transformed the lives of its children and become a beacon for its disadvantaged community through a trailblazing ‘pay as you feel’ shop to tackle food poverty amid the cost-of-living crisis, and programmes to engage families in students’ learning. Thirty-five percent of pupils are entitled to free school meals – well above the national average – and 40% have additional learning needs. But while nearly all the children enrolling at Cadoxton Primary begin below the expected level, almost every one has reached the expected level by the time they leave school with half exceeding it.
Under Executive Headteacher Janet Hayward OBE, Cadoxton Primary connects families and the community for the good of all. The children, parents and volunteers run a ‘pay as you feel’ food shop in an old shipping container outside the school community centre, offering nutritious food that would otherwise be thrown away by supermarkets. The project’s success in tackling food poverty while teaching students to tackle waste has led Cadoxton Primary, with funding from the Welsh government, to assist over 60 other schools across South Wales in setting up their own Big Bocs Bwyd (Big Food Box) shops to help families in the cost-of-living crisis.

Cadoxton Primary’s food literacy programme, which helps families understand the importance of food in physical and mental wellbeing, sees it run Soup and Song sessions where children and parents sing songs and learn to cook nutritious meals that they then serve to older members of the community.

Key to Cadoxton Primary’s success is its programmes to engage family members in children’s learning journeys. Projects targeted at the bespoke needs of families include getting DUGs (Dad, Uncles and Grandads) involved in activities; FRED - Fathers Reading Every Day to their children; and True Tuesdays – wellbeing sessions involving physical activity, healthy eating advice and mental health support. Programmes see parents spending 1:1 supported time with their children, while three times a year parents experience learning alongside their child in the classroom, enabling them to better support their children at home. This parental engagement has seen significant improvements in attainment and wellbeing.

If Cadoxton Primary wins the World’s Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity it will use the funds to develop and diversify its buildings, including its sports hall, to create multifunctional spaces to serve the community.

Children in Freedom School

Nakuru, Kenya

How one school is shattering the status quo to give African children an education of their own

Children in Freedom School, an independent school in Nakuru, Kenya, is shattering the status quo, instilling a deep sense of pride, critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship in its students. The impact on the community has been nothing short of extraordinary, as the school has disrupted the traditional Eurocentric education model and replaced it with a powerful blend of local languages, Afrocentric history and thinking, tech savviness, and life skills. Children in Freedom School is not just a school; it's a movement that's transforming Africa.

Originally a scholarship programme for disadvantaged children, it became a school when it recognised the limitations of the Eurocentric education model that was being followed in Kenya. The school understood the importance of instilling positive African histories, languages, and narratives in the curriculum.

To achieve its goals, the school began by retraining and retooling teachers to embrace Afrocentrism and to adopt more holistic approaches to teaching. It encouraged children to embrace the colour of their skin, the natural state of their hair and their genius. The school also adopted African prints and outfits, and promoted the use of the powerful African value of 'Ubuntu.'

Through its more holistic approaches, Children in Freedom School also set out to prove that African children could learn better and learn more if they could be taught in a manner that was suited to them. While the school follows the Kenyan national curriculum, students learn programming from an early age. Students also learn public speaking, as well as critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship. As a result, the kindergarten learners are literate and multilingual by the age of three, and some do the same school work as primary school students.

These approaches have developed a deep sense of pride, self-efficacy, and identity among the students.

If Children in Freedom School wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it intends to expand its programme and increase the number of disadvantaged children it can mentor and educate, furthering its goal of empowering African children to reach their full potential.

Colegio Impacto de MAIA

Sololá, Guatemala

Breaking down paradigms: How one school in Guatemala is paving the way for Indigenous women

Colegio Impacto de MAIA, a community-driven secondary school in Sololá, Guatemala, is breaking down deeply entrenched paradigms by providing a high-quality, holistic education to girls who face discrimination for being Indigenous Maya who come from economically poor and rural communities. In Guatemala, fewer than 20% of Maya girls complete high school, 57% are mothers or married by age 18, only 7% of high school graduates are proficient in maths, and only 13% meet literacy standards.

Colegio Impacto de MAIA is the first in Central America to be led by Indigenous women and specifically designed to connect the talents of Indigenous girls with the opportunities of the 21st century. With a 94% retention rate and an education model with an equal focus on academics, culture and identity, socioemotional and physical wellness, and personal development, the school is creating a generation of empowered female leaders in Guatemala.

The school integrates a preexisting mentorship programme designed to support adolescent girls in rural Guatemala to be the first in their families to complete high school, and provides them with a rigorous and intentional secondary school environment, equipping them with the skills and tools needed to overcome their significant challenges. In collaboration with local partners, girls also receive hundreds of hours of workplace training and university access coaching to secure university acceptance and formal employment. One graduate is Central America’s first RISE Global Scholar, and another is a SHE CAN scholarship recipient who will continue her studies at a US university.

In addition to its academic empowerment, MAIA provides girls and their families with socioemotional education and family engagement to develop their empowered voice, leadership skills, and knowledge of reproductive health and gender equity so they can lead choice-filled lives and ensure her education is a family commitment.

Colegio Impacto de MAIA is an innovation platform that attunes global best practices to a rural context. Viewing development through an abundance mindset centered on collaboration, Colegio Impacto de MAIA has proactively shared innovation, training, and girl-centered methodology with 60+ schools and organisations and is an active member of several local and global networks.

If the Colegio Impacto de MAIA wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, the school intends to continue to provide girls with a high-quality, holistic education and evidence  the power of Indigenous girls to transform their family, community, and country.

Escuela Litoral Austral

Puerto Aysen, Chile

Education beyond boundaries: Escuela Litoral Austral’s technology and innovation to connect students to their future

Escuela Litoral Austral, a government kindergarten and primary school in Puerto Aysen, Chile, is empowering students in one of Chile’s most remote and challenging regions through its groundbreaking technology programme and workshops. The school has surpassed expectations and attained extraordinary outcomes in international projects like NASA SPARX and The Space Metaverse International Challenge, paving the way for a new era of educational opportunities, inspiring students to reach for the stars and break free from the constraints of their unique circumstances.

Escuela Litoral Austral’s geographical and socio-economic limitations create significant challenges for its students' educational advancement, including a lack of resources and institutions catering to academic development. These prevent many children and adolescents from pursuing higher education or vocational training. In response, the school has focused on establishing an academic technological pillar, delivering vocational guidance from an early age. By incorporating technological innovations into the curriculum, the school has created a primary education experience that closely resembles professional technical education on a smaller scale.

An epitome of this approach are the school’s extracurricular Innovation and Exploration of New Technologies Workshops, known as T, I, E, N, T. Introduced in 2016, these workshops introduce and develop cutting-edge 3D modelling and printing, web design, augmented reality, digital comics, and programming skills, creating a comprehensive set of tools that equip students to thrive in today’s economy and introduce them to future vocations.

The school’s commitment and emphasis on innovative educational practices has set it apart and garnered international recognition, including being the sole representative from Chile at the esteemed Microsoft Educator Exchange 2019 in Paris. Additionally, its involvement in NASA projects and its selection as winners in the Choose Innovate 2022 contest further highlights its commitment to excellence and breaking geographical barriers through cutting-edge initiatives.

If Escuela Litoral Austral wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it will invest in creating a manufacturing and prototyping laboratory. This state-of-the-art facility will be equipped with advanced technologies like printers, laser cutters, programming kits, and more. The aim of the laboratory will be to foster imagination, idea development, and problem-solving within the community. By providing hands-on experiences, Escuela Litoral Austral believes that students can surpass the limitations of its environment.

Feversham Primary Academy

Bradford Moor, England, UK

Perseverance, music, and the arts: The inspiring story of one school’s rebirth, from ashes to global leader

Feversham Primary Academy, a state school in Bradford, UK, is an incredible story of transformation,  perseverance, innovation, and unparalleled success, from a failing school in a deprived area in 2011 to a top 1% performer by 2019. The school's investment in specialist teachers, the arts, and a peer-driven professional development model has resulted in its stunning turnaround and its mark on the entire UK education system. Today, Feversham is a global leader in primary music education, a case study for the National Plan for Music Education, and a beacon of hope for schools around the world struggling to overcome adversity.

Located in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, with high levels of poverty and crime, and low levels of education and employment, Feversham Primary Academy achieved its remarkable transformation through a series of bold and innovative strategies. The school's new headteacher, Naveed Idrees OBE, began by investing in specialist teachers and giving them the autonomy to lead their areas with professional development and flexible working. He also implemented a peer-driven professional development model that empowered and motivated the staff.

Under the supervision of Jimmy Rotheram, the school’s music director, the school changed its approach to make the arts the bedrock of academic success. Increasing the hours of music and arts each week allowed every child to access a musical instrument and tuition throughout their time at the school. This approach helped to broaden the curriculum and foster a sense of inclusivity that had been previously lacking.

As a consequence, the investment in the arts helped to boost English and maths results, which had been the school's initial focus areas. By giving the students a creative outlet and a sense of purpose, the school was able to achieve outstanding academic outcomes across all areas.

Feversham's success has also been driven by the school's willingness to collaborate and share its pedagogy with a partnership of schools and organisations, and parts of its music and science curricula are used around the world. This has helped to spread the school's innovative ideas and practices, amplifying its impact and making it a global leader in primary music education.

If Feversham Primary Academy wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, the school intends to use the prize to continue building grassroots projects in the community, working to address the wider social issues that the community faces and collaborating with a cluster of schools, organisations and researchers  to provide a model for  sustainable and scalable grass-roots development. Feversham believes it can turn this small part of Bradford into a beacon of teaching excellence. The school will continue to invest in the development of its staff, empowering and motivating them to develop a colourful, arts-rich community of schools  that support healthy, creative and successful lives.

Colegio Campestre ICAL

Chía, Colombia

Bridging unspoken differences: Fundación ICAL’s contrarian and hugely successful approach to inclusive learning

Colegio Campestre ICAL, an independent school in Chía, Colombia,run by Fundación ICAL, has implemented a unique educational model that breaks down the traditional barriers and prejudices related to disabilities. With 72% of its student population having hearing or mild cognitive disabilities, the school’s innovative “inverse inclusion” model integrates non-disabled students in the remaining 28%, creating an environment of true understanding and fostering a culture of empathy, acceptance, and shared growth.

For the last 61 years, Fundación ICAL has worked hard to provide quality education and opportunities to hearing disabled children despite its community’s low-income status and associated high psycho-social risks. To address the barriers and prejudices, the school began integrating siblings and other children without disabilities and developed a curriculum to accommodate both needs simultaneously.

The school empowers students in their personal growth and development by combining in-person classes, technology, and support for sign and oral language learning. This support includes specialised methods, such as the verbotonal method, logogenic, logodactic, and bilingual approaches. At the same time, non-deaf students also learn Colombian sign language to accompany their deaf peers, fostering social inclusion and cultivating values of solidarity and acceptance.

The school’s educational model has gained international recognition, being selected as one of the hundred most innovative and scalable models worldwide in the HundrED Global Collection. In addition, it was selected by the World Economic Forum to be part of its Education 4.0 Lighthouse Network Programme.

The school, however, sees its impact not in the communication skills it teaches, but in demonstrating and fostering a sense of resilience in its students. And in this, its success is impressive, with 82% of its graduates going on to further education or finding employment – far surpassing national occupation rates for individuals with disabilities – and several more going on to hold influential positions advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in Colombia.

If Fundación ICAL wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, the school aims to strengthen its entrepreneurship programme, extending its reach to younger students, both with and without disabilities, through the development of a digital app. Additionally, the school plans to enhance its facilities, including building an arts classroom, improving the school's edible garden, and acquiring new Montessori materials to benefit the younger students. By investing in these initiatives, Fundación ICAL aims to continue making a lasting difference in the lives of its students and the broader community.

Government Girls Day Secondary School, Runjin Sambo

Sokoto, Nigeria

How a Nigerian government school is breaking down barriers and empowering young women through Menstrual Hygiene education

Government Girls Day Secondary School, Runjin Sambo,  a government school in Sokoto, Nigeria, has brought about a transformative shift in the lives of thousands of teenage girls through its Menstrual Hygiene programme, breaking down barriers to education and empowering them to reach their full potential. The school's unwavering commitment has not only improved the academic performance and health of its students but also produced future nurses and health personnel who are serving the community. This inspiring initiative is a shining example of how education can be a powerful tool for social change, providing hope and opportunities for girls who were once held back by taboos and stigma.

With a school population of about 4,000 teenage students aged 11 to 18 years old, Government Girls Day Secondary School created a multi-pronged approach to address the crisis in girls' access to quality education, with girls facing stigma, exclusion, discrimination, bullying, and gender-based violence. This approach involved guidance and counselling services, teacher-led programmes tackling menstrual trauma, physical, and mental effects, as well as referral services in the case of menstrual infections to access medical care, and mentorship to reconnect students to learning.

The school also organised in-school training programmes, clubs and societies, and peer-to-peer student forums, which created a supportive social environment with no restrictions in accessing menstrual hygiene management information. The peer-to-peer programme also encouraged communication towards ending taboos and stigma, sharing problems and experiences among students relating to menstruation.

Through these programs and activities, the school was able to impact about 4,000 girls with basic menstrual hygiene skills and knowledge. The school also produced many nurses and health personnel who are now serving the community, contributing to other sustainable areas such as introducing students to WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) and reproductive health.

If Government Girls Day Secondary School wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it intends to expand its menstrual hygiene awareness campaign to formal and informal public schools in the community, orphanage homes, internally displaced persons camps, and schools in rural areas. It also plans to acquire facilities and equipment to engage in the local production of sanitary pads to combat period poverty and empower its students with entrepreneurship skills.

Physics and Mathematics Specialized School named after Artashes Shahinyan under the Yerevan State University

Yerevan, Armenia

Problem solvers and innovators: How PhysMath uses adversity to successfully advance thought and creativity

Physics and Mathematics Specialized School named after Artashes Shahinyan under the Yerevan State University (PhysMath) is a selective government secondary school in Yerevan, Armenia. The school’s contemporary teaching programmes, unwavering dedication to students' individual strengths, and groundbreaking academic and innovation achievements around the world are leaving a clear understanding of a school’s – and a nation’s – resilience and adaptability to adversity.

At the heart of survival and success is thought and creativity, and to this end, PhysMath uses a unique, blended theoretical and practical approach to teaching, which gives students a deeper understanding of what they are learning and encourages them to think critically and creatively. The school also emphasises each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses, adjusting each lesson environment and structure to cater to the student’s unique needs. This ensures that every student’s education allows them to reach their full potential.

Furthering potential also means breaking down gender stereotypes by encouraging women to pursue STEM fields. As such, PhysMath's efforts have resulted in an increasing number of female students excelling in mathematics, physics, and other STEM subjects.

As a result of the school's emphasis on innovation and creativity, its students and alumni hold a mindset of problem-solving and entrepreneurship. The success of this mindset has led to the development of successful startups, as well as employment and leadership in leading international organisations such as Krisp, Microsoft, and Google.

Many PhysMath graduates also go on to lead the biggest schools in Armenia, which helps share the school’s approach to teaching and learning, further raising the quality of education across the country.

If PhysMath wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it plans to allocate the funds to improve the quality of life on campus by building new living areas, academic buildings, laboratories, classrooms, and hiring teachers to maintain the teacher-student ratio. The school also intends to introduce a smart greenhouse system built by one of its students.

Snehalaya English Medium School

Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India

How one school is empowering its students and community, and breaking down the barriers of discrimination

Snehalaya English Medium School, a charity school in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India, has transformed the lives of children living with HIV/AIDS and those from sex worker families, breaking down stigmas and paving the way for a brighter future. With the 70% admissions rate from families outside the charity and a 100% pass rate in their 10th Std, all while carrying out efforts to end second-generation prostitution in their district, Snehalaya English Medium School is rewriting the narrative for marginalised communities in semi-rural India.

With 25% of the school's students being HIV+ and an even higher number being children of sex workers, the school’s students face systemic discrimination.The school overcame initial challenges in recruiting students who did not come from these disadvantaged backgrounds by connecting with village leaders who hosted meetings with parents to openly discuss and allay their concerns. By convincing parents that the school’s benefits and results far outweighed the perceived associated risks, Snehalaya English Medium School managed to recruit a diverse range of students.

Besides bringing this change through affordable and quality education, Snehalaya English Medium School believes in empowering students beyond the classroom, enabling them to learn from changemakers, international volunteers, teachers, leaders, and social workers, inspiring them to become socially aware and accepting. In this way, Snehalaya English Medium School has put an end to second-generation prostitution in its district and is helping many of their children achieve great careers, breaking the cycles of poverty and exploitation.

At the same time, it has invited other schools to visit and use its facilities, further breaking down stereotypes. The school also invited social activists to raise awareness of the issues they were tackling, invoking a sense of responsibility for the world we live in.

Snehalaya English Medium School does not deny, however, that some of its students, due to their circumstances, may require additional attention, and so the school offers sports sessions and playtimes to give students the opportunity to release unspent energy. Additionally, the school has four counsellors on hand for one-to-one support as and when required, both for students and their teachers, families, or caregivers.

If Snehalaya English Medium School wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, it intends to use the prize to further expand its education programme, enabling more children to benefit from their unique approach to education, promoting inclusivity and breaking down stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS and sex work.

The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School

Jerusalem, Israel

The school fostering empathy, respect, and equality in a deeply divided land

The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem - the only bilingual, integrated Jewish-Arab primary-secondary school in the country - breaks down barriers between Jewish and Arab communities in the deeply divided Israeli education system. In a country where 99% of Jewish and Arab children study in separate schools, the school’s pioneering approach to bilingual, multicultural education and its 25-year legacy of promoting shared society and equality has not only transformed the lives of its students and surrounding community, but also created a ripple effect across the country, inspiring a growing network of integrated, bilingual schools. The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School is a beacon of hope and an example of how education can promote understanding and foster a more peaceful and equitable future.

The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School opened its first class in 1998. Today it serves over 600 Jewish and Arab students from Pre-K through Grade 12. From its very outset, the school's focus has been to create an environment where Jewish and Arab students can learn together, in both Hebrew and Arabic, with co-teaching teams of Jewish and Arab teachers. This immersive approach to bilingual, integrated education not only helps students learn each other's language but also fosters cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

This cross-cultural appreciation is reflected in the school's values-based educational model, which emphasises equality, respect, and empathy and permeates every aspect of the school's culture and curriculum. Students learn to celebrate and honour the language, culture, and narratives of the school’s diverse Jewish and Arab communities, and are taught to take pride in their own identity while also learning to respect the identity of others.

The school's leadership reflects the diversity of its student body, with an Arab elementary school principal and a Jewish secondary school principal, as well as equal representation of Jewish and Arab staff, who work closely together to create an inclusive learning environment, modelling the values they wish to imbue to their students.

The school's unique approach to education has been refined and developed over the past 25 years, with a rich array of curricula that include dual-narrative history, art for social change, human rights law, environmental science, regional civics, as well as clubs that promote debate, feminism, and climate action.

If the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School wins the World's Best School Prize for Overcoming Adversity, the school intends to use the prize to support its unique co-teaching model, as well as raise awareness toward the values of shared society and equality among a wider audience.

Project Shelter Wakadogo

Gulu, Uganda

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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Pinelands North Primary School

Cape Town, South Africa

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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Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos

Cabrobó, Brazil

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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SMK Kampong Jawa

Selangor, Malaysia

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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Samaritan Mission School (High)


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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St Edward's Primary School


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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Marcus Garvey Technical High School


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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West End Primary

South Africa

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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Amani School for Refugees


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


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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Judging Criteria

The criteria for judging and rating this Prize category are the following:

1. Teaching & Learning

2. Home & Community Engagement

3. Leadership & Practice

4. Facilities & Services

Children gathering around school desk while teacher explains something to them.

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