/ 4 November 2011

A worthy example to follow

Education Award
Leap Science and Maths School

The Langa Education Assistance Programme (Leap) is tackling a major problem in the ­education system by producing strong maths and science students from township and rural schools. Established 14 years ago as an after-school tutoring programme in Cape Town’s Langa township, Leap now operates four independent
high schools in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

The programme is not just about maths and ­science: Leap nurtures leadership and human values too. Students are inspired to rise above their poverty-stricken backgrounds to become “role models in their ­families and agents of change in their communities”.

Leap founder John Gilmour believes real change can only come from direct intervention. After-school tutoring — however valuable — is not enough. This realisation led to the founding of the first Leap Science and Maths School in 2004; in 2007 another one was established in Gugulethu, Cape Town.

One year later a Leap school opened in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, followed by another in Diepsloot this year. Gilmour said his passion to contribute to township education was driven by his own need to transform.

“As a white man I needed to understand what my journey of transformation was, and I actually had to come to terms with the fact that I had a history in this ­country. “Having been part of the problem I had to commit myself to be part of the solution.”

Leap’s criteria for selecting students are that they should come from township schools, be filled with passion and willing to work hard. This combination, said Gilmour, was more important than their ­academic record. “We take the children based in the community and work with them,” he said.

The initiative also runs a Future Leaders programme that provides mentorship for former students who are studying to become teachers through the University of South Africa. So far, 25 students have benefited from the programme.

“I keep telling these young leaders that each of them must head a school by the time they are 30,” said Gilmour. Education, he continued, involved more than just getting qualifications. “It’s about finding out who you are in the context of a country in crisis and discovering your responsibility as a citizen.”

Meanwhile, Leap continues to expand across the country. Next year another school will open in Ga-Rankuwa and two more are planned for Limpopo by 2013. Currently only students from grades nine to 12 are accepted. Gilmour did not see this as a problem because “the huge beauty of young people is their ability to respond to quality teaching and to realise their true potential”.

Leap boasts an average grade 12 pass rate of 95%, and 74% of its matriculants proceed to tertiary studies. It all added up, said Gilmour, to a “flood of academically and personally enabled young people entering the workplace” — and the community.

The judges praised Leap’s efforts in furthering much-needed maths and science education. The programme should be expanded and replicated in other schools, they said.