A win for education in Africa, with support from Oprah

HP is a founding partner of the award recognizing South Africa’s Mamokgethi Phakeng as a leader in transforming education across the continent.

By Sarah Murry — September 28, 2022

When Oprah Winfrey says your name, people listen.

Which is why it was doubly impressive when Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who earlier this month was named winner of the inaugural Africa Education Medal, a new award presented by HP and T4 Education, received congratulations from none other than the media mogul herself.

“I honor the vital work that you do in education and I celebrate you as a forward-thinking, visionary leader for such a time as this,” Winfrey said in a video shared on social media. 

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng for her award and forward-thinking work in education.

Growing up in rural and township South Africa during Apartheid, Phakeng became the first Black South African woman to achieve a PhD in mathematics education and today serves as the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town. She was chosen as the winner of the Africa Education Medal from among 10 finalists, a prestigious group that includes the former president of Tanzania.

Earlier this year, founding partner HP teamed up with T4 Education, in collaboration with Intel and Microsoft, to launch the award as part of its goal to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025.


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“Achieving this bold goal wouldn’t be possible without empowering teachers who are at the forefront of the rapidly changing education environment,” says Brad Pulford, managing director of HP Africa. “A quality education empowers not just individuals, but entire communities.”

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, recipient of the inaugural Africa Education Medal.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, recipient of the inaugural Africa Education Medal.

Professor Phakeng is known for her research on language practices in mathematics education, and has published more than 80 papers. During the pandemic, she led the University of Cape Town to open a new online high school and tapped the power of social media to teach when classrooms were shuttered.

She conducted 70 free online sessions for post-grads and young academics live on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, reaching more than 2 million people. On the first Friday of December each year, she runs the #MakeEducationFashionable campaign to inspire people to pursue higher education.

Professor Phakeng was making headlines well before Oprah’s shoutout. In addition to numerous plaudits and accolades, Phakeng is a member of the board of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls and currently chairs the Human Resource Development Council Standing Committee on Mathematics and Science Education. This year she became the first African to be elected chair of the International Alliance of Research Universities

“It is the greatest honor to be recognised for my life’s passion,” Professor Phakeng says. “Quality education is the key to Africa’s future and I’m so grateful to HP, Intel, and Microsoft for this award that I hope will inspire others across our continent to further the cause of African education.”

Read why HP is teaming up with the YMCA to bridge the digital divide.