Professor Phakeng wins inaugural Africa Education Medal – UCT


05 September 2022

New award, founded by T4 Education and HP, recognises UCT VC for her impact, leadership, and advocacy in the field of African education

Professor Phakeng wins inaugural Africa Education Medal

5 September 2022 

University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng has been named the winner of the inaugural Africa Education Medal, launched this year by T4 Education and HP in collaboration with Intel and Microsoft.

Professor Phakeng was chosen from among 10 finalists from across the continent, including former President of Tanzania, H.E. Jakaya Kikwete.

The Africa Education Medal was founded to recognise the work of changemakers who are transforming African education. UNESCO data shows that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion in the world. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of six and 11 are out of school, with girls particularly disadvantaged. However, tireless international efforts have seen Africa make great strides in boosting enrolment in the decades leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. By celebrating the stories of those working every day to expand upon these vital gains, the Africa Education Medal aims to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and bring lasting change in African education.

Phakeng is among the world’s leading scholars in mathematics education, having become the first black female South African to achieve a PhD in Mathematics Education in 2002. In the two decades since, she has published more than 80 research papers and five edited volumes that continue to shape mathematics education in classrooms across Africa and far beyond. Her research focuses on language practices in multilingual mathematics classrooms and has proved influential in post-colonial Africa and post-apartheid South Africa in particular.


Her research and community work have won her many prestigious awards, not least the Order of the Baobab (Silver) conferred on her by the President of South Africa in April 2016. She was named the most influential woman academic in Africa by CEO magazine in 2014, and in 2020 she was included in Forbes’ inaugural list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa. This year she became the first African to be elected chair of the International Alliance of Research Universities, and is set to succeed Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

Professor Phakeng has shown exemplary leadership in her field, with her research illuminating how learners and parents are positioned in and by the power of English. Her work explores practices in mathematics learning that harness learners’ spoken languages while developing their mathematical English. This innovative work has highlighted those typically disadvantaged by their multilingualism in an English-dominant society and it has embraced the power of languages in learning. 

Professor Phakeng said: It is the greatest honour to be recognised for my life’s passion. 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.”

In congratulating Phakeng, VP and Managing Director at HP Africa, Brad Pulford, said: Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s drive and leadership in transforming education across Africa and beyond stand as a shining example to others all over the continent.