Educating future leaders

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Giving thanks

From John Gilmour’s desk

John Gilmour, Executive DirectorAt LEAP, we have a much to be thankful for. We’ve gone from start-up in 2004 – with enough support, encouragement and community engagement – to six schools (three start-ups and three full schools) in 2012. It has taken a lot of support across a national framework to enable us to make the start-ups work and create hope for each of these communities and for the young people who had been assigned to the mediocrity of the education system in these areas.

It is remarkable that we now have these six footprints.

The challenge has been the alignment of operations across the six schools – so that the quality of the experience of a child in Jane Furse is exactly the same as that of a child at a LEAP school in Gugulethu or Alexandra.

I am thankful that we have not had to look for all the solutions from scratch but been able to build on the foundations that others have laid. We have learnt from the experience of our international partners: KIPP Schools, Teach with Africa and EdVillage. And we have developed a strong leadership development component with some of our leaders doing six-month residencies in high performing schools in the United States as part of the KIPP programme. Young LEAP leaders have been able to dig deep into that layer of experience.

We have recently deepened our leadership work and launched the Teacher Institute – a collaboration with Teach with Africa – where we will begin to formalise our Future Leaders Programme and create a new model for teacher development. The Institute aims to draw young, ambitious people into teaching and focus on refining instructional practice and leadership within the LEAP framework.

Our commitment to walk and work together with Edunova and Letsema in Duncan Village in East London in 2013 is another bold step of transformative action for LEAP.

None of this would be possible without funders who understand what we are trying to do –to transform ourselves and in the process transform children and young people. Long-term supporters like HCI Foundation, Old Mutual Foundation, Aveng and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation have all put their faith in the possibilities of LEAP schools to launch new ideas in education.

By keeping the faith, they have seen us through our expansion to six schools and enabled us to take the kinds of risks needed to play a real role in addressing the challenge of education in South Africa. Our three new schools will grow at an average of 50 children per year, per school so the challenge is going to be to increase our funding to keep pace.

With this in-built expansion, existing funding frameworks have got to be rethought. So we are developing a strategic team involving leaders of corporate South Africa to be a sounding board, a mirror and to create ideas that will help us plan for this growth. I am immensely thankful for the men and women leading big organisations who are willing to devote time to this. It is a real gift and there is much to be celebrated in the growing relationships and shared commitments to education transformation. We need to grow and develop this forum  in the years to come.

The work that we are doing together with Bridge and Dr Mampele Ramphele’s Citizens Movement for Social Change is giving us new platforms to lift the discourse out of despair, to collapse competition and ramp up collaboration. Together we can achieve so much more.

In her book, Conversations with my Sons and Daughters, Dr Ramphele quotes Aung San Suu Kyi, who says: “A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the inequities of the old order will continue to be operative.”

This ‘revolution of the spirit’ is what we are trying to live at LEAP – to do business differently in the field of education.

We are at a threshold. Next year will be LEAP’s 10th year and a time for celebration. But the choices that we face are the same as they were right at the beginning. Do we consolidate and secure our position or do we say: this is just the foundation, now we must do the real building?

There is everything to be hopeful about. Our children are so resilient and optimistic and, given even a slim chance, willing to take the necessary risks to become agents of change. Young people haven’t changed, it is us adults that need to wake up and provide the opportunities; real interventions that are life-changing and not just a promise of hope.

The LEAP story says that whether it’s Langa, Gugulethu, Alexandra, Diepkloof, Jane Furse or Ga-Rankuwa children are ready and waiting, it is simply a case of unlocking real opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Values - Everyone at LEAP commits to:

  • Being kind, honest and healthy
  • Being punctual and looking good
  • Working hard and never giving up
  • Admitting and learning from mistakes
  • Confronting issues and being open to change
  • Working together and sharing