LONDON—When Adelaide Tsogo Masenya was six, she switched primary schools. Her local school, Dr Knak Primary School, in the poor Johannesburg township of Alexandra, only taught in her native language of Sepedi. Her new school, Marlboro Gardens Secondary School, had an English-only curriculum. Years later when she asked her mother, a cashier who only had a primary school education, why they had moved her, her mother replied, “You actually asked me to take you to an English school.” Even at such a young age, Masenya, who is now 30, had enough agency to understand the importance of education for her future.
Masenya went on to attend university in Johannesburg—later working both in human resources and as a secondary school teacher. She was also awarded a Chevening scholarship to obtain a master’s degree in education and development at University College London, something that likely wouldn’t have been available if she had not had access to a good recognized university for her undergraduate degree. “Education has taken me to places where I never thought as a young Black girl from Alex I would reach,” she said, sitting in an outdoor café in west London, where she now lives and remotely runs the Tsogo Ya Bokamoso Foundation, an education nongovernmental organization she founded. It focuses on mentoring secondary school girls back in her township. “It has made me live a life of freedom where I am able to provide for my family, I am able to work in any space that I want to, I am able to have a voice and express my rights. Education has made me who I am today.”
Masenya’s tale is unique, but it also exemplifies the stories of millions of girls and young women across the globe who, if given an opportunity for education, can run with it. Through education, they can both better their own lives and benefit their families and communities through better health outcomes and delayed marriage and pregnancy. These are related to better educational outcomes, which, in turn, can lead to improved economic performance for the community as a whole.
Those benefits have been long understood. It was 25 years ago—not far off from when Masenya was asking her mother to change schools—that 189 countries unanimously adopted the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA) to advance the rights of women and girls. One of the aims in the BDPA was to get governments to increase access to education and training for women and girls.
It was the first time that girls’ education was rolled into international development goals in a serious way. In the two and a half decades since, girls’ education has become a mainstay for multilateral organizations, NGOs, private foundations, and individual governments that push forward agendas not only to get more girls enrolled in school but also to tackle some of the intersecting issues that take them out of school, including poverty, cultural norms, and sexuality.
A UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report released on Oct. 9, “A New