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News 2 > Global Student Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Student Prize > Margarita Lopez Mendez

Margarita Lopez Mendez

Growing up in Colombia, Margarita had a difficult early life, and she would frequently have to stay behind after school because her parents’ work commitments meant there was no one to collect her. However, she used the time to assist teachers with their younger students, which allowed her to discover her true passion and goal in life: helping others to learn. Academic success and a scholarship to the selective IEA school led her to enrol in higher education to become a teacher, also becoming the first in her family to attend university. Winning various scholarships, she was then able to study in Germany and Paris, all the time working multiple jobs to help with living expenses and tuition.  

Today, Margarita is studying for her PhD while simultaneously working hard to improve education in sub-Saharan countries and in Colombia. In 2017, she co-founded a French NGO called Action Real, focused on international solidarity, education, interculturality and capacity building projects. As President of this organization, Margarita leads the strategy and coordinates the conception, the monitoring, and the evaluation of projects across France, Colombia, and Congo. Action Real’s main project is Connexion REAL, which aims to make Congolese teachers aware of the principles and benefits of active learning, and to train them in student-centered teaching, ICT for learning, and gender equity. Margarita has directly trained 40 university teachers and teacher supervisors in Brazzaville, and coached them to train more than 150 secondary teachers, working with the ministries responsible for education and benefiting over 7,000 public school students. Her ultimate goal is to build schools of excellence for vulnerable students, while also implementing neuroscience-based projects for public schools in Congo and Colombia to enhance students’ learning capacities.  

As a student, Margarita has also been actively involved in helping others succeed in their studies, especially those who face financial difficulties or have disabilities. In Paris she has worked as a teacher assistant and as a volunteer tutor for disabled students, and in 2017, she also co-founded an NGO to offer scholarships to Colombian children and teenagers to learn languages.  Margarita is currently working in the direction of several projects, such as the ‘Amas de las finanzas’ project, a financial education project for vulnerable women in Barranquilla/Colombia, the REAL CONNEXION project (education network for a Leader Africa), pedagogical training and integration of educational technologies : she and her team are working on a digital application to train teachers remotely which will benefit several sub-Saharan countries and finally the initiative "Your project, my project" which aims to help and train social entrepreneurs who are launching for the first time a development project for their communities in France, Colombia and in Congo. If Margarita were to win the Global Student Prize, she would devote half the prize funds to constructing and opening the first private school of excellence in Congo – completely free for vulnerable students. Most of the rest of the funds would be used to support herself through her final year of doctoral study, and to support Action Real’s projects – including training 80 teachers and pedagogical supervisors in the city of Dolisie on active learning, 21st-century skills, ICT, and gender equity in education. Smaller amounts would also be used to launch a new project in Congo and Colombia to apply neuroscience in public schools, and to enable Margarita’s family to visit her in France. 

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