She is only 12 years old. A pupil at Winnie Ngwekazi Primary School in Soweto, an urban area of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa. She has never been on an airplane until last week. Yet, now she stands thousands of miles from home at the UN Summit in New York; speaking at an event hosted by Queen Rania of Jordan and with an audience that includes former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She is small in size, yet her message is big and loud: education is a right for all.
Her name is Nthabiseng Tshabalala, the Global Campaign for Education’s youngest 1GOAL ambassador. As she stands at the podium—her height supported by a single foot stool—she declares “education is important for all kids my age. But, not just children in South Africa—or even all of Africa—but in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America and everywhere in the world.” The whole room is humbled; her passion for education gives her more height than the foot stool ever could.
“Education is key to success,” she continues. "Education is key to my success.”
Then, some brochures are passed out, with some sad facts and figures about education in Africa:
- In sub-Saharan Africa, 46% of children are currently out of school.
- Across North Africa, 66% of children out of school are girls.
- In Chad, only 3% of girls are in secondary school.
The facts, fortunately, get better:
- The number of girls in school in Mozambique doubled between 2004 and 2009.
- Since 2002, the number of teachers hired in African countries increased by 55%.
- In Ethiopia, primary net enrollment has increased by 15%.
Regardless, the best fact about the MDGs for education is the young girl that stands before me. After her speech, Nthabiseng shakes hands with the world leaders in the room, but it is the handshake between her and Okonjo-Iweala that means the most to me. What separates one African girl, such as Nthabiseng, from millions of other young African girls is the very thing that helped one African woman, such as Okonjo-Iweala, be who she is today. That very thing being one thing and one thing only: access to quality education.
Photo: Nthabiseng Tshabalala with World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.