By Candis Cousins
By the time I finally walked through the doors of the LEAP School for Science and Maths in Langa Township in Cape Town last summer, I had been hearing about the school for twelve years. Through my involvement with Teach With Africa, I had learned that the personal, social and economic losses, created by the gross inequities in math and science education enshrined by law under apartheid, are incalculable, even to this day.
Fifteen years ago, John Gilmour, a white educator in South Africa, awoke to the demands of his own conscience and founded the LEAP school in Langa township, the first of six LEAP high schools across South Africa. Over time, the LEAP high schools have developed into life-changing educational communities, serving children with potential from the most deprived circumstances.
The original LEAP school in Langa township is the very school I visited one morning this past July. We were introduced to Lisa and Mister, a sophomore and a senior, our guides for the day.
Lisa and Mister led us into the interior courtyard filled with music. A choir of students, standing on bleachers beneath a large, graceful tree, were singing a welcome song to us with such joyful harmonies, I felt I wanted to be nowhere else in the world.
We were then taken to a classroom of eighth-graders, the youngest students in the school. Each morning, the LEAP day begins with small talking circles such as this one, known as “Life Orientation” meetings. Each student takes a turn speaking while others listen. Today the topic was “What did you do on Sunday?” The responses were spare: “I went to church.” “I talked with my mother.” “I ate.” “I went to sleep.”
What a contrast to our articulate guides, Lisa and Mister, who had, just the day before, won a regional debating contest against both black and white high schools. Over the years at LEAP, day by day in small talking circles, it is possible for verbal language to grow, becoming the basis for academic learning, complex thought and social development.
The development of language is central to the almost impossible but critical task that LEAP has set for itself – to create, one school at a time, a new generation of leaders, prepared to build the foundations for educational, economic and social equality.
We are all hungry for hope. To visit a LEAP school is to experience hope within the storm of impossibility in South Africa and in our own lives as well.