|27 Sep 2023
|2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize
Johana Suarez Santillan embarked on her teaching journey in 2014 at the Dr. Luis Benavides Specialised Educational Unit, where she found her calling working with children and adolescents with visual disabilities and associated with other disabilities such as intellectual, auditory, physical and psychosocial disabilities. Her mission evolved into promoting comprehensive education, addressing not only academic skills but also the physical, emotional, and social needs of her students.
Recognising the challenges faced by students with disabilities, particularly their limited inclusion in regular institutions, Johana tirelessly worked to expand educational opportunities within her institution, resulting in the inclusion of 8th, 9th, and 10th-grade levels, as well as the implementation of the Technical Baccalaureat with a professional figure in Marketing and Sales, thereby creating training modules adapted to the specific educational needs of its students. This expansion allowed students to continue their education with the necessary tools for future inclusion. Her commitment extended to making education accessible through the adaptation of materials and technology, including braille books, audio recordings, sensory resources and the creation of a computer centre. Johana organised workshops involving parents and caregivers empowering them about the true meaning of disability, fostering a collaborative approach to student education.
Johana also introduced special areas like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and music therapy to cater to the diverse needs of her students, promoting their motor skills and autonomy. Facing resource limitations, she found alternative solutions, including acquiring materials in accessible formats and incorporating assistive technology like screen readers, also ensuring the physical environment of the school was accessible with braille signage, pictograms and orientation aids.
Challenges existed not only within the school but also in the broader social environment, where students with disabilities often encountered barriers and misunderstandings. Johana advocated for an inclusive approach, emphasising empathy, respect for diversity, and individualised support. She actively contributes to her community by organising outreach programs supporting the elderly, people with disabilities, and those deprived of liberty during special occasions. Her involvement in the Cantonal Council for the Protection of Rights further demonstrates her dedication to improving the rights of people with disabilities. She created the social campaign "Live disability without fear", which was disseminated in his city and province.
Johana integrated climate change and environmental issues into her curriculum, raising awareness, encouraging individual and collective action, and empowering students to be environmentally responsible, focusing on practical actions like energy conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable practices in school and the community. Including global citizenship in her teaching, she exposes students to diverse cultures, facilitates participation in global projects, and engages them in volunteering and social action, leveraging technology to connect students with peers worldwide and foster intercultural communication skills. Sharing her expertise and supporting her colleagues with training, mentoring, and participation in educational events and debates, her goal is not only to enhance the quality of education for her students but also to elevate the status of teaching as a profession. Her achievements were recognised through numerous awards and honours, including being named the Best Teacher in Ecuador by the Fidal Foundation in the Excellence in Education Competition. Johana’s dedication to education, inclusion, and sustainability has left a lasting impact, making her a true inspiration in the field of special education and for educators worldwide.