Theophilus “Theo” Ogbhemhe has been recognized for his commitment to promoting equality and diversity in the classroom.
The Kirkwall Grammar School teacher becomes the first recipient of the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s Saroj Lal award.
The award recognises a teacher in Scotland who shows a “pioneering spirit” for going “above and beyond in their efforts to fight for the cause of equality and diversity”.
Mr Ogbhemhe’s contributions range from integrating diversity education into his curriculum to helping organise community fundraisers and awareness campaigns.
‘Making noise’ against discrimination
Mr Ogbhemhe has had a hand in numerous school and community diversity events, in which his students play a major role.
He organises Kirkwall Grammar’s yearly LGBT+ events, motivating students to raise money for the Stonewall Scotland charity.
After the murder of George Floyd, he helped organise the ‘Orkney Oot wae Racism’ group.
He and the members of his Consciousness Afterschool Club also organised what they call “Making Noise” music festivals.
I have always believed in working towards a world where the system shows no bias to a race or class.”
The goal of each festival is to raise awareness of a different type of discrimination, he said.
Students who help organise the festivals learn skills that help them in and out of the classroom.
“It has been an experience that has taught its members – who range from learners across all classes, abilities and those with additional support needs – to work successfully with and value the contributions of others.”
Over the years, Mr Ogbhemhe’s club has ‘made noise’ against racism, homophobia, suicide’ and discrimination of all kinds.
Equality as a ‘way of being’
The award panel praised Mr Ogbhemhe for his wholesale adoption of the cause of equality.
“What was clear from our meeting with you is that the work you do to promote equality and challenge discrimination is your ‘way of being.’ it is not separate to who you are as an individual or as a teacher.”
Mr Ogbhemhe encourages his students to take action in promoting equality and understanding.
“Inequality damages society and so does discrimination, and I have always believed in working towards a world where the system shows no bias to a race or class.
“I have tried to ensure that everyone feels valued and respected at my place of work and the local community.”
Saroj Lal Award carries a legacy of ‘trailblazing’
The award was created this year in honour of Saroj Lal, who was described as a “trailblazing teacher and campaigner in Scottish race relations.”
Born and educated in India, she migrated to the UK in the late 1960s. She was among the earliest Asian primary school teachers in Scotland and worked tirelessly to promote ethnic and gender equality.
Her son, Vineet Lal, sat on the award panel. He said Theo was a fitting first recipient of the award that carries his mother’s name.
“Theo embodies the pioneering spirit the award recognises in every possible way. His commitment to his learners, school and wider community is outstanding, and he is an inspiration to us all.
“It’s wonderful, and immensely moving, to see her legacy live on through this award and Theo’s passion for embracing diversity and equality in everything he does.”