University of Alberta researcher Curtis Riep is the winner of the Albert Shanker Education Award.
Every four years, Education International (EI) awards the Albert Shanker Education Award to a teacher or other education employee in recognition of an outstanding personal contribution to education. The EI award celebrates “professional action [that reflects] a commitment to educational excellence and the promotion of democracy, social justice and equality through education.”
Riep is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the University of Alberta. In 2014 he conducted groundbreaking research that helped promote quality public education in Ghana by shining a spotlight on the increasing privatization of education in Ghana and the shortcomings of so-called private “low-cost” schools.
Riep said he’s grateful for the international recognition, but added that he hopes it leads to greater acknowledgment of the importance of public education.
“It is a fundamental human right and a moral imperative,” he said, “that is currently under threat in various corners of the world due to the growing involvement and influence of commercial actors that are prioritizing profits before students and teachers.”
Riep’s work extended beyond West Africa when he conducted research on the Affordable Private Education Center, a chain of private high schools in the Philippines. His research contributed to the success of EI’s global response against the privatization and commercialization of education.
In 2016, Riep conducted research into Bridge International Academies (BIA), a for-profit school chain operating illegally in Uganda. This research provided evidence for a successful effort by the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) to convince the Ugandan government to act against BIA and announce the chain’s closure.
During his field research Riep was arrested due to fabricated allegations made by BIA. While the allegations were dismissed and deemed to be “without merit,” BIA continued harassing Riep. Despite the threats and attempted intimidation, Riep concluded the research. The information he uncovered has been critical in the campaign to counter the privatization of public education.
According to the organizations that nominated him — the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and UNATU — “over the last half a dozen years Riep has made a contribution to quality publicly funded public education throughout the world that most could not hope to make in a lifetime. His personal contribution to ensuring all children have access to quality, inclusive, public education regardless of their socio-economic status, gender, or the country they call home is outstanding.” ❚