Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The problem of low performance for learners in schools in less privileged communities is a big challenge in South Africa, especially in Mathematics and Science subjects. This is mostly attributed to inadequate learning resources in the schools (including teachers) and also lack of exposure to better and more structured study programs that not only enhance academic performance, but also provide overall personal development of individual learners.
The poor standard of education in these communities is reflected in the substandard performance of learners which is consistently far lower than the average performance of their counterparts in privileged and better resourced schools especially in Mathematics and Science subjects. A social policy research report from the University of Stellenbosch indicates that by the age of 8 years, students in the most affluent and privileged public schools (about 20 percent of the student population in public schools) are significantly out-performing their counterparts in less resourced public schools both in academic performance and general knowledge. Further, South Africa ranked 14th out of 15 Sub-Saharan countries in reading performance, and 12th in Mathematics in a survey conducted on children from disadvantaged communities in the region (Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Measuring Education Equality Survey, 2007). To further aggravate this situation, the government of South Africa does not have the capacity to train adequate teachers for all public schools and the few available and well-experienced teachers get frustrated due to inadequate teaching materials in less privileged schools.
An additional reason for that is an entrenched and inherent fear of Mathematics and Science subjects especially for learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds majority of who attend under privileged schools serving their communities. This comes from the apartheid history where the subjects were only available to learners in prestigious schools serving the affluent white population while the rest of the disadvantaged learners were taught applied Mathematics and applied Sciences. This was a deliberate strategy by the apartheid regime to seclude people of other races from accessing better further education and career opportunities.
Most learners in townships and rural communities come from families where the value of education and related commitment and discipline to study beyond designated class time is not enforced. A lot of teachers focus on engaging learners during class period only and are not concerned with what study routines they have after classes. Privileged schools on the other hand have structured study and personal development programs that go beyond classrooms to help learners achieve their potential both academically and socially. In fact, the level of open dialogue between teachers and students in disadvantaged communities tends to be very limited, and peer voice amongst students is also not encouraged. Therefore, students (most of which are coming from households with many challenges) do not have the opportunity to also discuss and deal with their social-emotional difficulties due to the lack of space and proper orientation from teachers and the school.
There is also a disconnection in the education curriculum with too much emphasis on developing the hard academic skills of the learners while neglecting the softer social-emotional skills that are crucial in developing the whole individual. These skills allow them to learn how to deal with their own emotional challenges but also how to relate to those of others. Therefore, learners end up graduating with high marks but with no confidence and skills to become successful social beings. Most schools do not have structures and programs that expose the learners to the social challenges existing within and outside their communities and social circles that couldprovoke them to think of what can be done to address the challenges and create positive change.
Furthermore, there is lack of proper structures that enhance collaboration and coordination among education innovators in South Africa to facilitate sharing ideas and best practices in education that can actually change this scenario. As a result, there are isolated cases of innovations in education with no channels for other less advantaged schools to tap into the ideas and use them to improve their education quality. Not only are these examples dispersed but most of them place emphasis exclusively on the cognitive skills necessary to reach high levels of performance at the expense of all the other relationship and social-emotional skills that are equally needed for learners to excel. Since these schools focus primarily on the access of learners to higher education, they miss the chance toprovide opportunities for their overall human and social development.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Recognizing the educational crisis in South Africa, particularly for students in public schools in disadvantaged and marginalized communities, John Gilmour is working to foster innovation and collaboration to incubate and extend new educational practices and enhanced human and material resources in South Africa’s secondary educational system. Among the first innovations has been the expansion of South Africa’s mandatory Life Orientation curriculum to include a focus on the social and emotional development of children coming from the distressed communities of South Africa’s urban townships. This, and other innovations, are being studied and extended through two national networks for school innovation which John has co-founded, Bridge and the South African Extraordinary Schools Coalition (SAESC).
John’s LEAP Schools’ model also ensures that learners understand social challenges facing their communities and are stimulated to take action and help in addressing them. To this extent, John created a Social Development program through which LEAP learners are connected to various community-based organizations and initiatives to see how they can contribute as individuals in developing possible solutions to various social challenges. The objective is to ensure that learners develop changemaking skills and a social connection to their communities which is essential for them to become future successful leaders, responsible citizens and changemakers. To address the problem of human capital in education, the model also includes the LEAP Future Leaders Program, a leadership program aimed at developing the learner’s potential outside the academic curriculum. This works further to promote aspirations to the teaching profession and makes it accessible for LEAP graduates with a goal of enrolling 10 percent of each LEAP graduating class to study education at tertiary level. Future Leaders can then study to become educators at a tertiary institution or by participating in LEAP’s own Leaders in Education internship.
Through the multi-faceted strategy, John has managed to achieve a 94 percent pass rate for LEAP Schools in communities unlikely to achieve such performance as well as a 72% enrollment rate for tertiary education every year. Some of the LEAP graduates go on to start their own community action projects after understanding the role they can play as changemakers. Growing steadily since 2004, LEAP now has 1,000 learners in 6 schools spread over three South African provinces: Western Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo. John also created Bridge and the SAESC as part of a national community of practice to spread these and other innovations in the education system throughout South Africa, especially via creative public-private partnerships.