Canadian teacher awarded $1m prize for work to reduce teenage suicide rates within indigenous community

A school teacher working in an indigenous community in the remote Canadian Arctic has been awarded a US$1m (£803,000) global teaching prize for her work helping to reduce teenage suicide rates.

Maggie MacDonnell, who teaches at the Ikusik School in Salluit, a remote Inuit village, was commended for her achievements within the local community, where harsh conditions are a significant barrier to education.

A town of less than 1,000 inhabitants, Salluit is an area of high deprivation, isolation and limited resources, where rates of teenage drug abuse and self-harm are high.

Temperatures in the region reach minus 25C, and the school is only accessible by aeroplane. 

Accepting the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which was announced via the International Space Station, Ms MacDonnell said: “I have witnessed 10 suicides in just over two years.

“When I leave the church with the body and go with it to the graveyard, the memory that starts to haunt is you see these Canadian teenagers – the very own classmates of the deceased – digging the hole and burying the body in the tundra. 

“As a teacher, you come to school the next day and there’s an empty desk in that classroom. There’s a stillness and a silence that’s coming from that desk.”

Now in its third year, the $1m award is the largest prize of its kind, and was set up to recognise exceptional teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to the profession, as well as shine a spotlight on the role teachers play in society.

In a special congratulatory video message broadcast into the ceremony hall, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said: “Maggie MacDonnell – on behalf of all Canadians – from one teacher to another – congratulations on winning the Global Teacher Prize 2017.

“I’d like to say thank you to every teacher out there. Teachers owe responsibilities to many people – to students, to parents, to the community, the school board. But in the end,…

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