Great Leap forward for free schools
Free schools teach maths, science, life skills, self-reliance and commitment
SELLO Masile is a self-confident young man from Alexandra in Johannesburg whose dream is to become a civil engineer.
Four years ago Masile, 18, was a truant delinquent pupil at one of the public schools in the sprawling township.
Masile applied in 2010 for admission to the Leap Science and Maths School, situated at Linbro Park, east of Alexandra, and he does not regret the move. He is now a top Grade 12 learner at the school.
Last year (in Grade 11) he obtained distinctions in maths, science, Sesotho, English and life orientation.
"There is a huge gap between this school and the schools in the township where both teachers and learners play truant.
"Here I got a chance to change my attitude towards learning and life in general."
Leap schools are independent and privately funded institutions that provide free education to students with potential from disadvantaged communities.
Maths and science are compulsory at the schools.
Masile is one of the 166 learners enrolled at the school. Another learner at the school, Nyiko Shirindzi, 17, dreams of becoming a natural scientist.
"This is the best school I have ever attended," Shirindzi enthused.
Leap schools have a code of conduct that inculcates self-regulation and self-discipline among both learners and educators. The schools also strive to inculcate values such as honesty, respect, self-reliance and commitment to community development.
Learners at Leap schools have to be involved in community projects. As part of his social responsibility, Masile does gardening and general cleaning chores at Ihlokomele Old Age Centre in Alexandra.
A teacher at the school, Emily Bowora, describes the school as "totally different from the public school where I used to work in Khayalitsha.
"Learners express themselves and actually come up with their own solutions to some of their problems. I have come to have high expectations from them."
English teacher Dr Rajasverrie Naidoo is also responsible for skills development among the teachers. She develops an extra-mural activity programme that links with national events like Human Rights Day and the 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse.
"Our schools have a unique philosophy of incorporating values such as honesty, love and integrity. We believe that education cannot just focus on the academic," says principal Fadiah Williams.
The 29-year-old head says Leap schools are also committed to providing opportunities to young female leaders. There are six Leap schools in the country. Two are in Western Cape serving the communities of Langa, Gugulethu and Crossroads.
There are three Leap schools in Gauteng, serving the communities of Alexandra, Diepsloot and Ga-Rankuwa. Another Leap school was recently established in the rural community of Jane Furse in Limpopo.
"These schools take in young people facing serious challenges, but have managed to achieve a 94% Grade 12 pass rate, with 75% of graduates pursuing tertiary studies. The combination of personal empowerment and academic excellence is the key that unlocks change," she says.
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