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News 2 > Global Teacher Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize > Mariette Wheeler  

Mariëtte Wheeler  

South Africa - Protea Heights Academy

Although Mariëtte first trained as a biological scientist, her career has enabled her to combine her two main passions – biological research and teaching. As part of her biological studies, she spent two separate years (2004/05) and (2013/14) as part of a small team on isolated, sub-Antarctic Marion Island, in between which she obtained her PhD in Zoology. However, even while engaged in scientific research, she increasingly found herself teaching and training younger students. In 2010, Mariëtte was asked to be a judge at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, where she was able to share experiences from her research background. In 2012, she was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans. 

After her second period on Marion Island, Mariëtte's PhD promoter encouraged her to become a teacher, to share her personal experience in scientific research. In 2015, Mariëtte completed her Postgraduate Certificate in Education, pursuing practical training at South Peninsula High School and Bishops Diocesan College. In 2016 she then commenced full-time teaching at Protea Heights Academy (PHA) teaching Natural Sciences and Life Sciences. Alongside her teaching duties, she arranges opportunities for learners through the Bazinga Science Club, and organised PHA's first school expo for science projects. In 2018, a year teaching at Sterkspruit Christian Private School – a rural community in the Eastern Cape – allowed her to gain insight into the challenges that learners in rural areas face, including less access to resources (such as books, study materials and the Internet). Despite the challenges in this isolated community, all learners passed the year; some have gone on to successfully earn degrees in Biomedical Sciences and pursue postgraduate study. 

Mariëtte's teaching approach emphasizes working towards the simplest possible explanation of material, and she implements this in various ways. Learners explain work to each other in small peer groups, have class debates, participate in charades-like class competitions, and use the Quizziz app to learn difficult scientific terms. As a result, all of her Grade 12 Life Sciences learners have passed the subject and their senior year. Teachers that Mariëtte has mentored are also being recognized for their great results, such as Michelle Crowie, selected as Best International Educator in her region for her work in China.  

In 2021, Mariëtte was named the Department of Basic Education’s E3 National Best Teacher, and represented South Africa at the virtual UNESCO regional celebration of World Teacher’s Day. Outside the classroom, she also makes monthly record broadcasts on marine life for a local radio station, listened to by around 400,000 people. If Mariëtte wins the Global Teacher Prize, she will use the funds to (a) set up a medical centre focusing on teenagers, especially girls, to provide sanitary products and other support, (b) increase her church’s efforts in sustainable community building, (c) support rural communities by setting up a mobile science equipment unit that can travel between schools, and (d) set up a dedicated marine sciences venue with scientific equipment, along with camping-style accommodation to give learners the outdoors experience.  


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