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News 2 > Global Teacher Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize > Geisha Bonilla Cortes

Geisha Bonilla Cortes 

Chile - Lorenzo Baeza Vega School, Easter Island

Geisha has come a long way from humble beginnings to being one of the top teachers in Chile. Although her mother finished secondary education, both her father and grandfather were agricultural workers from a young age and did not attend school. His father worked in the fields since he was a child, and at the age of 12, he joined a mining company, dedicating a lifetime to it, so he had no schooling and did not talk about it. It was only when her father did not help with her schoolwork that she realised he could not read: however, an incident when Geisha was in her second year at university changed all this. Desperate to discuss the Chilean literature she was reading for her degree with someone, her father said, "I would do it, but I don't know how to read.” At that moment, Geisha decided that it was not too late – she would teach him to read, and he would become her first student. Using literacy books from a school for adults, he studied every day after his work shift was over. A year later, at the age of 47, he enrolled at school, and later completed his primary education. Today Geisha’s father is brilliant at mental calculations and has beautiful handwriting; together with her mother he is an avid reader of the newspaper and a lover of crossword puzzles. This experience changed Geisha’s life, her view of what was possible, and what teaching meant to her.

Today, Geisha works on Easter Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,700 km off the Chilean coast. Most of its 7,000 inhabitants work in agriculture, although the main income is tourism. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as the island closed to tourists, that Geisha took office as Director of the Lorenzo Baeza Vega School. In that context, she made an effort to understand the island culture and think about how to teach based on what the community needed. In the months without in-person classes on Easter Island – a place with little Internet access – she decided to make an educational TV programme, making Easter Island the first place in Chile where something like this was done. Since then, Geisha has continued to respond to local needs, particularly in terms of the language used in school. Although Spanish and the native Rapa Nui are both spoken on Easter Island, there is concern about preserving the language, which is why Geisha decided that classes would be taught in Rapa Nui with the content and concepts of the island’s culture.

As a result, there has been a progressive increase in student attendance at school (from 73% in 2019 to 93% currently) as well as enrolment (from 30% in 2020 to 45% in 2021). Family participation in school life has increased considerably. In addition to her teaching work, Geisha has also been recognised for her stories and poetry at a regional, community and national level. This also encourages her students to write. In 2021 she was a finalist of the Global Teacher Prize Chile, which has made her work on Rapa Nui more visible. She was recently recognized among the 30 best school principals in Chile in the area of community relations. The award will be presented to her in October 2023.

If Geisha wins the Global Teacher Prize, she will use the funds to create a new learning community with its own facilities. This would serve the object of increasing enrolment, as well as offering a flexible curriculum based on the Rapa Nui culture, which involves the way of being, the vision and the customs of the ethnic group. It would also train native-speaking teachers – of which there is a shortage – and serve as an integrated education site for youth and adults who could learn new skills to boost jobs and services on the island.



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