3. June 2016

Leaping into the South African future

Any child, no matter how impoverished their background, is capable of tertiary study, if given the right educational opportunity and support. That is the belief of the South African organisation LEAP, which recently received NOK four million from the Norwegian Kavli Trust.


Text: Teresa Grøtan/Kavli Trust
Photos: LEAP

The LEAP Science and Maths Schools is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing quality, no fee, high school education to students from deeply disadvantaged township communities throughout South Africa.

LEAP was established by John Gilmour in 2004. Since opening the first LEAP school with just 73 students, this model has grown into six LEAP schools and almost 1000 full-time students of today.

Anthony Galloway, who is a close friend of John Gilmour, was the first chairman of the LEAP schools’ board, a position he occupied from 2003 to 2011. Today he works as a business consultant and a volunteer fund-raiser for the organisation. We sent him a few questions about LEAP:


Why did John Gilmour want to start LEAP?

John worked as a high school teacher and principal from 1977 to 2002. In addition to being an exceptional educator and leader, John has an extremely high social conscience, and it always bothered him that children from the deeply disadvantaged townships of South Africa were being denied the chance to fulfil their potential due to a lack of access to quality education. It is this concern that inspired John to create LEAP.

As he resigned from Abbotts College in 2002, he conceived of a community-based, no fee, replicable high school model that would provide disadvantaged high school students with an educational solution.

What is the reason for the poor school situation in the townships of South Africa?

During the apartheid era (from roughly 1954 when the Bantu Education Act was first promulgated through to 1994 when the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela came to power in the first democratic elections in South Africa) the white Nationalist ruling party systematically ensured that black South Africans were afforded poor standards of education, and were compelled to live in townships in urban areas.

These townships soon became characterised by over-crowding, very poor infrastructure, social abuses of all kinds, drugs and gangs, high levels of crime and violence, and shockingly poor standards of education. Sadly, since 1994 not much has changed.

Levels of social inequity exist all over the world, but the unique situation in South Africa is that as a consequence of apartheid the majority of our people are disadvantaged, not the minority.

Unless someone intervenes in these communities the legacy of apartheid will be perpetuated into the future. LEAP live by Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”.

John has always been fully aware that the LEAP schools cannot provide a total solution to the crisis in township education, but that long term change can be brought about “one child at a time, one classroom at a time, one school at a time, one community at a time”.

Boy ruling lines

What is different with this model compared to the public schools, and how has the model been developed?

John designed the original LEAP model, and has led the development and growth of that model since inception.

Through the LEAP programme learners receive extra academic intervention to address the severe academic deficit with which they arrive at LEAP. They are also given as much support and as many opportunities as possible to develop their personal and social consciousness to enable them to become young leaders and “agents of change” in their communities.

Although all LEAP students in Grade 12 write the same school-leaving examinations as all students at government (public) schools, there are a host of differences:

  • LEAP students experience an extended school day — starting at 08h00 and finishing at 17h00.
  • They have “double-time” in core subjects such as mathematics, physical science, English and life orientation subjects.
  • Class sizes are small — less than 25 students per class (in most township schools there are 40-plus students in a class).
  • LEAP follows a highly interactive, facilitative, participative style of teaching with an emphasis on a problem-solving methodology, as opposed to the “talk and chalk” approach adopted in most township schools.
  • LEAP places a very high priority on the development of the whole student, not only academic but socially, emotionally and psychologically as well.
  • LEAP students are not selected on academic talent (aptitude), but primarily on personal motivation (attitude).
  • All LEAP Schools are no-fee schools. The funding for LEAP is 90% provided by donors (individuals, corporates, foundations), with 10% coming from the government Department of Education.
  • The LEAP model is replicable, which is why we now have six LEAP schools in three different provinces of South Africa, all producing outstanding results.
  • While the national Department of Education celebrated a 70% matric (Grade 12) pass rate last year (2015), it is known that only perhaps one-third of those students wrote mathematics and science in the final exams, and many failed those subjects. The LEAP matric results of 2015 showed a 95% pass rate, with every student having maths and science. 50% of LEAP graduates achieved a Bachelor-level pass, which qualifies them to apply for access to university — this compares to perhaps 5% from comparable township schools. It’s a radical difference!


What does the funding from the Kavli Trust mean to the organisation?

The funding from the Kavli Trust means a huge amount to LEAP! Obviously the commitment of NOK 2 million in 2016 and NOK 2 million in 2017 is a fantastic contribution to helping LEAP meet it’s financial obligations over the next two years, but it means so much more:

It’s the first funding we have ever received from Norway, which we hope may open up a whole new opportunity for LEAP support from the Scandinavian countries.

The philosophies of LEAP and Kavli are beautifully matched — I believe that we can, and will, work very effectively as partners together in both the short and long term.

Kavli’s support represents such a vote of confidence in LEAP’s work — it’s inspiring for everyone in the LEAP “family”, and we hope that it will inspire other funders in the future.

Read more about LEAP Science and Maths Scools.