A Chinese technology billionaire has launched the world’s most valuable education award.
Charles Chen Yidan is offering £6.64m (nearly $8m) annually to two research projects that have the potential to “transform” global education.
Called the Yidan Prize, the award will recognise and support ‘agents of change’ in education by encouraging innovation in education research and replicating it across the world. It will also help to tackle the most significant education challenges facing the world over the coming years.
“It is intended to ignite constructive and inclusive dialogue around education,” Mr Chen said at a press conference in Hong Kong.
Mr. Chen, 45, who made his money as co-founder of Tencent, one of the world’s biggest websites providing social networks and internet services in China, launched the prize in Hong Kong last year.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Chen believes that technology is central to transforming modern education methods.
Quoted in the Times Education Supplement (TES), he said:
“The world is facing the fourth industrial era, which is defined by humans’ interface with computers – are we ready to face that future? The world needs a big idea and that is why we have set up this prize to create many big ideas to create a better world.”
Before launching the award, the Yidan Prize Foundation commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit to make educational forecasts in 25 different economies up until 2030.
Seeking to focus on future challenges and trends and the reform of education structures.
Mr. Chen became interested in education at a young age. With an illiterate grandmother who made sure his father was given a good education, Mr Chen himself studied applied chemistry as an undergraduate at Shenzhen University and took a master’s degree in economic law at Nanjing University.
His educational philosophy has also been shaped by the “tremendous pressure” he felt while studying for China’s “gaokao” higher education entrance examinations.
As a result, he set up Wuhan College, a private university in China, which focuses on “whole-person development” rather than rote-learning and examinations.
The Yidan prize money, which could be awarded to an individual teacher or a team working on education projects, will be split into two categories, the Yidan Prize for Education Research and the Yidan Prize for Education Development.
Each prize will total £2.6 million, with half given as a cash lump sum and the remaining half handed out over three years to finance the winners’ projects.
Questions like, do the rich get the best access to education and do some systems concentrate too much on exams, will be addressed and retired teachers’ expertise will also be developed.
“They are a valuable resource that we need to make better use of,” Mr Chen says.
Prize-winners will be chosen by an independent committee headed by the former director-general of UNESCO, Dr Koichiro Matsuura.
The award is aiming to become the Nobel Prize for education, and will challenge the Global Teacher Prize as the world’s biggest education award, which hands $1m to an outstanding teacher every year. Another major education prize is the WISE Prize for education, which is supported by the Qatar Foundation and awards $500,000 (£415,000) to the winner.
The prize has been greeted enthusiastically in the education world and nominations have been flooding in. Andreas Schleicher, education director at the OECD, has said he hopes it will be an incentive for innovation in education.
Critics doubt that a prize is the best way to improve education. Dan Sarofian-Butin, founding dean of the school of education and social policy at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, says that prize money can be a poor way of achieving change.
“Rather than give a one-off cash prize, I hope the Yidan Prize will nurture and sustain its winners over a period of years,” he told TES.
Nominations close at the end of March and the first winner of the Yidan Prize will be announced in September 2017. A prize-giving ceremony will take place in December.