|12 Nov 2022
|2019 Finalists Global Teacher Prize
Yasodai Selvakumaran is nationally recognised in Australia as an outstanding teacher and leader. A Tamil Sri Lankan-born Australian, Yasodai’s parents left Sri Lanka amongst growing civil tensions, and she grew up in rural and regional Australia before moving to Sydney to complete university study.
From a young age, she learned that Tamils in Sri Lanka were discriminated against and denied human rights, but rarely saw this on the news, and questioned why the voices of Tamils were not heard. Her interest in history was awakened by historiography, with its emphasis on the need to recognise assumptions and biases, and developed through specialisation in post-colonial histories and global education.
Today, Yasodai teaches at Rooty Hill High School, a comprehensive public school in Western Sydney with the challenges of a culturally and linguistically diverse group of students in a socio-economically deprived area. The school has a significant enrolment of 65 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and the wider community often battles with stereotypes that poorer students cannot achieve highly. A large number of students have experienced trauma, which they may continue to encounter throughout their high school careers.
Despite having caring responsibilities for someone chronic illness, Yasodai has achieved consistently high results in a school that performs just below state average. In a career of just eight years, she has directly influenced the careers of over 200 teachers, winning the 2014 Australian Council of Educational Leadership Mary Armstrong Award for Outstanding Young Educational Leader, and the Australian Teaching Fellowship for 2018. Rooty Hill High School has been named as one of Australia’s 40 most innovative schools in 2016 and 2017, and in 2017, Yasodai was recognised as one of 30 rising stars under the age of 35 in Australian education by The Educator Australia magazine.
With the Global Teacher Prize funds, Yasodai would lead more collaboration between academia and practitioners in education. In the short term, she would use the leadership of a school-based project and Australian Teaching Fellows project on signature pedagogies to identify the dispositions that matter most when teaching in particular subject areas. In the long term, she would lead greater sharing of what teachers and schools are currently doing to work effectively with stakeholders, including governments, students and parents.
I love teaching because of the joy of learning with students and working with others to lead it. It’s a privilege to work in a profession that is about improving individuals, groups and ultimately entire communities.