History of LEAP
In 1987, at the height of apartheid, John Gilmour, a teacher at Pinelands High School in Cape Town, responded to a call from individuals within corporate South Africa that were concerned about the devastation being created by Bantu Education and what this would mean for the country in the future. A programme was created through which black students were invited to spend a week at Pinelands High School. “Africa Week” was a success and led to the forming in 1990 of the Langa Education Assistance Program (or LEAP). The aim was to provide one hundred black students from Langa with support tuition from Pinelands High teachers in English, maths and science three afternoons a week.
The LEAP was limited in addressing inadequacies in the students’ educational foundations, the cost of transporting students from the township became prohibitive and a need was felt to show that good learning could be based in township schools. For these reasons, in 1996, the way in which the LEAP operated was changed. Up to thirty teachers were instead bussed from Pinelands and other – predominantly white – schools, to Langa. In 1997 John moved from Pinelands High to become Headmaster of Abbot’s College, but the LEAP continued.
In 2001 the nature of the LEAP was again changed because members of the Langa community were uneasy with the notion of white teachers attempting to “save” black children. Langa community teachers felt that they were as able to give extra lessons, and LEAP funds were diverted to paying for their work.
Despite the considerable efforts of the LEAP (and other similar programs) the proportion of black matric students who were eligible to enter universities – especially the science-based disciplines – did not increase after 1990. Statistical evidence of this fact informed John’s decision to introduce a workable alternative: full time tuition for African language matriculants, which demanded almost double the classroom time as there was in regular schools.
John resigned from his post at Abbot’s and in January 2004 the first LEAP Science and Maths School was begun on a shoestring budget – thanks to generous donations of money, resources and equipment – in rented premises in Observatory, Cape Town. Seventy-two students entering grades 9, 10 and 11 were taught by seven teachers. There was one administrative staff member. At the end of 2005 the entire first LEAP matric class graduated – one student had first to re-write two exams.
In 2007 a LEAP teachers’ training programme (now called the LEAP Future Leaders Programme) was begun. This was in response to a severe lack of adequately trained teachers in South Africa. The aim remains to enroll ten percent of students from each graduating matric class at LEAP to study education at tertiary level. Future Leaders are supported to enable their teaching studies at South African tertiary institutions and can participate in the LEAP Leaders in Education internship. There are currently around 25 young people in the programme. In 2012 two of the first to qualify as teachers were placed in new LEAP schools.
In 2007, a second LEAP school, serving students from Gugulethu and Crossroads was established and in 2008 LEAP 3, serving the community of Alexandra, Johannesburg welcomed its first students. In 2011 LEAP 4 in Diepsloot, Johannesburg started and in 2012, LEAP 5 in Jane Furse, Limpopo and LEAP 6 in Ga- Rankuwa, near Pretoria opened their doors. In 2013, LEAP 2 launched a satellite Grade 9 class serving students living in Delft.