John Gilmour

Ashoka Fellow
Cape Town, South Africa
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when John Gilmour was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
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. John has developed an innovative model aimed at providing quality education to high school students from disadvantaged communities with strong social-emotional skills development to bridge the education divide with their counterparts in privileged schools to enhance performance while helping their overall human growth. The idea is to facilitate positive transformation of disadvantaged communities through meaningful education for the youth.

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 advocate for aspiration of the teaching profession and makes it accessible for LEAP graduates with a goal of enrolling 10% 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. John has also developed another program called the LEAP Learning Centre which provides quality after-school tutoring to learners in LEAP schools’ partner communities. The learning center is a shared space for learners and teachers from various schools in the communities around the particular LEAP Schools, designed to provide a platform for interaction between students and teachers from diverse backgrounds and communities. This facilitates exchange of ideas and information and exposes learners to different ideologies, widening their scope of knowledge and helping enhance both academic and personal development. Tutors who participate in this program are drawn from qualified African refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Botswana and Zimbabwe and also professionals from South Africa providing an infusion of different learning experiences, culture and knowledge.

LEAP South Africa 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. Through the multi-faceted strategy, John has managed to achieve a 94% 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, with plans to fully scale nationally in the next 5 years. LEAP focuses on enabling self-awareness necessary for each student’s growth to healthy adulthood, and to ensuring optimal academic results which will allow for choices for lifelong learning and a fulfilling future.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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