Funds dry up for LEAP schools

Founder and executive director John Gilmour, left, with Mninawa Madikane and Ncamile Madikane, chats with Xolile Magi.

Grade 9 pupil Xolile Magi is one of many pupils from impoverished communities around the province who has received free private education from the LEAP (Langa Education Assistance Programme) schools – which could open the doors to tertiary education for him.

The youngster from Langa lost his mother in June this year and now depends solely on his unemployed father. And so they are grateful that school tuition is not another financial burden they have to carry as the school is covering all his costs, including meals.

This, however, could soon change if funding for the programme dries up.

The programme, one of the country’s most successful education initiatives, reaches out to pupils from the poorest townships in the country to ensure they get equal opportunities with their peers in affluent communities and have an excellent chance to enrol for tertiary education.

Leap schools place a special emphasis on maths and science, as well as English. Since its establishment in the late 1980s, with a group of pupils from Langa, attending extra classes at Pinelands High School, it has developed into a fully fledged school with branches in Langa and Crossroads, in Cape Town; Diepsloot, Alexandra and Ga Rankuwa in Gauteng and Jane Furse in Limpopo.

Each Leap school has a partnership with a school in affluent communities for additional academic support.

Langa has an ongoing academic partnership with Bishops, while Crossroads has a partnership with Herzlia United Schools.

But after nearly 30 years of rendering free quality education to thousands of township children, things are not so rosy, according to founder and executive director John Gilmour. And this could put the education of children such as Xolile in jeopardy.

In an interview with Vukani at the Langa branch of the school, Mr Gilmour, the son of a priest, said he started the programme after realising the “injustices” of apartheid. Coming from the leafy suburb of Pinelands, he wanted to learn and know more about people from neighbouring Langa. In 1986 he started the Langa Hockey Club before turning his attention to education, leading to the birth of Leap, with the support of the South African Breweries.

The programme grew exponentially with funding from various local and international funders.

But with tough economic conditions globally, he said most funders were now cutting back on their spending – and the school gets no support from government.

“As much as we are helping the poor through the work that we do, we are still treated as a private school. We are not getting all the funding like other schools,” he said. “We are now reaching a point where people are not willing to give.”

When the school was started as a maths and science intervention initiative for a group of pupils from Langa, in 1989, the pupils received extra tuition at Pinelands High School, where Mr Gilmour worked as a principal.

Today the school prides itself on producing some of the province’s top pupils.

Mninawa Madikane, who was part of the programme’s first intake of pupils, said it all started with a desire to do well in mathematics. “There was this one particular subject that I really struggled with,” he said.

He later realised that many other pupils faced a similar challenge. “Out of a class of about 60, only five guys passed,” he said.

Fortunately for him and some of his classmates this was around the time that Langa High School and Isilimela Comprehensive were cementing a partnership with Pinelands High.

A group of pupils from the two schools would be bused from Langa to Pinelands three afternoons a week and on Saturday for extra classes. They were given individual care and attention to ensure they understood the subjects.

As a result Mr Madikane was able to enroll at the UCT for B.Com Accounting. Today he is a qualified accountant.

As the numbers of pupils continued to increase, the school was forced to seek alternative ways to make its programmes accessible to many more township children.

This led to the opening of the first school in Mowbray, where it was based for nine years before moving to Langa in 2016.

“We are so pleased that we can leave the legacy of the founders of this institution,” said Mr Madikane.

Another former pupil, Ncamile Madikane, who is a founder of Rebuilding and Lifeskills Training Centre (Realistic) – a non-governmental organisation working with youth affected by drugs – praised Mr Gilmour for his vision.

To most pupils, he said, Mr Gilmour became more than just a teacher. “He became a father figure,” he said.

While the fact that he did not study beyond matric had put a strain on his relationship with Mr Gilmour, he said, they had managed to mend their relationship and were in regular contact.