“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” - Malala Yousafzai
It’s is estimated that nearly 69 million new teachers must be recruited and trained in order to achieve global universal primary and secondary education by 2030.
For Hakeem Subair, BComm ’16, that’s not just a statistic, it’s a challenge he’s taken personally.
In response, he helped launch the 1 Million Teachers (1MT) initiative, a reward-based training program for teachers to increase the quality of education available to children in poorer countries around the world.
The alumnus first became aware of the issue in 2008, when he and his wife, Olajumoke, then living in Nigeria, launched their own school for their children, Tiny Tots Osogbo.
The school could not attract the teachers required for it to function. There simply are not enough people interested in becoming a teacher in Africa, explains Subair. The pay is poor.
Unable to solve the problem on his own, Subair and his family emigrated to Windsor, Ont., in fall 2012 to build a better life for themselves.
He’d earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. In Windsor, he enrolled in the strategy and entrepreneurship program at the Odette School of Business, receiving his BComm degree.
It was in fall 2016, when Subair started his master’s in Management, Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ont. that a solution began to present itself.
That’s where he, along with two other master’s students, incubated the idea of 1 Million Teachers (1MT).
The program has three key objectives: attract new teachers; keep the existing teachers; and motivate them to improve students' performance.
The program includes both online and classroom learning. It is self-paced but takes about nine to 15 months.
Participants progress through various levels or “belts”—White Belt to Black Belt—earning badges as they achieve the milestones.
Motivation to move up ranges from $20, $40, $60 or $100 per level. Though some might consider the financial incentives low, some teachers normally earn as little as $80 per month.
“The incentives can make a difference in their lives,” says Subair.
After reaching the black belt “master teacher” level, the teacher qualifies for an educational “boot camp”, designed and delivered by professors from Queen’s University, with the help of other local mentors. Focus being on lifelong learning, they continue to attend various training programs to hone their knowledge and skills for as long as they remain in the program.
Black belts can supplement their regular income by working as resource persons for 1MT workshops, helping others achieve that goal. “Ultimately, they become resource persons themselves.”
More than 500 teachers are currently participating in the pilots. From this cohort, the first set of black belts will emerge.
“We launched the first pilot in Nigeria in July 2017,” says Subair. Since then, pilots have gotten underway in 12 other Sub Saharan African countries.
Each pilot will last 12 months to allow for necessary tweaks. Feedback will be used to improve the program.
An overall program review will take place approximately two years after it has produced its first set of black belts. Independent assessors, as well as researchers from various universities, will evaluate the program, with success determined by the difference in performance of teachers as a result of their participation.
1MT hopes to ultimately cover all of English-speaking, Sub-Saharan African countries by the end of 2018, and the French speaking parts within three years.
“We initially looked at one-year time frame but extended it to three years because it will take at least one year to train the first group of black belts, who are critical to achieving our objectives.”
Finding the funds to stay afloat in an ongoing worry.
“We constantly live in this fear, but our chances of survival get stronger as we achieve each major milestone,” Subair says. “These have increasingly attracted a greater level of support.”
The Smith School of Business at Queen's University just awarded the initiative $15,000 under its Dare to Dream Challenge, plus cash and in-kind support.
In addition, 1MT partner, the Faculty of Education at Queen's University, is working to raise a significant amount as part of their contribution to the partnership, in addition to other in-kind support.
Funding also comes from such sources as the City of Kingston, where 1MT is based, financial institutions in Africa, and various government grants, individual donations, and funds from investors.
Subair says that his Odette experience was a valuable foundation for his current work, particularly his involvement with Enactus, the student-run organization that strives to empower individuals in the community to make a positive change through entrepreneurial action.
Through Enactus, Subair did consulting work for struggling local startups, and was the local project manager for Project Releaf, a project that raises funds to provide fresh drinking water for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
“Enactus exposed me to the social impact space,” says Subair. “1MT is the current iteration of that work.”
He says several professors continue to be his mentors and sounding boards: Thomas Kenworthy, Kent Walker, Jonathan Lee, and former UWindsor prof Jim Marsh. “Also, the administrative staff were really kind and always made you feel at home…people like Jeanne Deslippe (now retired).”
The alumnus, who steers the project from Kingston while his family remains in Windsor, wears many caps, including CEO, business development, and relationship management.
Up to January 2018, he worked only on 1MT, but supporting his family meant taking part-time work with a financial planner, one of the initiative’s biggest supporters. “Between these two jobs, I put in at least 16 hours daily, but I love both because they are both about enhancing lives.”
Subair says that 1MT has given him “the emotional highs from coming up with creative solutions and the thrill from overcoming many seemingly intractable challenges, and joy from achieving the various milestones that we set for ourselves.”
He hopes that the model doesn’t only serve as inspiration to teachers, but to his own children, “to follow their convictions and (learn) that living a life of service to others is one of the best ways to live a happy and fulfilling life.”
Betty-Anne Howard: “Amazing group of dedicated souls making a difference in the world.”
Ishmael Ogbechie: “1 Million Teachers project is an excellent platform for training leaders and not just teachers. I have learned a lot from their insightful modules. Be you a doctor, lecturer, pastor, teacher, parent, professor, politician, you need to be educated by 1 Million Teachers. It's the BEST.”
Ishmael Ogbechie: “I am a participant of this learning program and it's worth joining. Learning and training for teachers has never been made this easy. Kudos.”
Jane Chin: “ I just spent a month in Ghana and the Ivory Coast meeting so many amazing educators who show up every day for their students. Keep doing what you’re doing! You inspire me!”
Kaka Mkparu: “I am truly honoured to be a partaker of this great move and appreciate Mr. Hakeem Subair for this great vision and the 1 Million Teachers crew for making it a reality. Je vous remercie.”