WALK ONTO THE GROUNDS of the Nkomo Primary School in the province of KwaZuluNatal, South Africa, and you will see children running, laughing, and playing games in the warm sun. Elsewhere on the grounds, boys and girls sit on rows of benches, leaning eagerly forward as their teacher explains the lesson written on a blackboard propped against a large shade tree. From other classrooms—shelters made of sticks and reeds—you can hear the sound of children singing, reciting their lessons in delightful harmony.

Clearly, this is a place of genuine learning—yet it has not always been that way. Just a few short years ago, this school did not exist. The province had too few schools, especially in deep rural areas, and many children simply ...

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