'Africa Rising'? Not really, unless we invest more in girls

Children pose in a classroom at the Friendship Primary school in Zinder, Niger, on June 1, 2012.

Story highlights

  • June 16 is the Day of the African Child
  • Johnson Sirleaf: Governments must ensure that spending on education is prioritized
  • She says investing in girls' education is not only a moral imperative but also a smart investment

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the president of Liberia and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN)What factor has the power to transform individual lives, communities, nations and the world?

The answer to this complex question is a simple one: education. While it is widely accepted that there is no one solution to lift the millions across our globe out of poverty, it is also equally accepted that a key cornerstone of addressing some of the world's most pressing challenges is through providing a quality education to all children, especially girls.
    Despite increasing numbers attending school in recent years, 126 million children remain out of primary school and lower secondary school around the world. Some 65 million of these children are girls.
    Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
    The highest rate of girls not in school is across the African continent, where in sub-Saharan Africa nearly four out of five poor rural girls are not completing primary school. There are an estimated 250 million children worldwide of primary school age who can't read, write or do basic math -- more than half of whom have completed four years of schooling.
    It is unacceptable that in 2014 -- less than a year away from the deadline the international community agreed to get all children into school -- that 30 million girls in Africa are denied their basic human right to a quality education. Ensuring that every child goes to school, stays in school and learns something of value while there will require firm commitments and action by governments to invest in education and prioritize the education of its girls.
    Africa's economy has grown at more than 5% annually over the past decade -- some of the highest economic growth in the world -- leading many to use the phrase of "Africa Rising" when describing its countries. However, a country's economic growth does not always lead to development or improvement for its poorest citizens. To truly rise as a nation by building an equitable, sustainable and peaceful society, governments must ensure that spending on education is prioritized and used well.