News / Africa

US NGO Teams with South African Schools to Enhance Education in Townships

Teach With Africa trains teachers and mental health workers to improve student performance


  • Conversation with Dr Orlando Taylor and Dr Cynthia Overton

One of the biggest problems facing African youth is a lack of education.  Experts say the continent has the lowest rate of school enrollment in the world.

In South Africa, as in many other African countries, most of it is attributed to social and economic problems going back to the apartheid era.  Many South African students drop out before high school graduation.  Many are from poor neighborhoods that were affected by apartheid.  One solution to the problem was to create special programs for outstanding students in local communities like Gugulethu in Cape Town.

Dr. Cynthia Overton is a senior researcher with the American Institutes for Research.  She recently visited the LEAP Schools in South Africa.  LEAP stands for Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism.

Overton says LEAP schools were started as way to address some of the issues affecting students from mainly black townships.  Many of them can’t afford to attend the more expensive private schools.  She says the schools have had a great impact on the students, who, in turn, “impact their communities.”

But like many African countries, South Africa has a great need for trained teachers—and that is where Teach With Africa comes in.  Dr. Orlando Taylor is the vice president of the Chicago School of Psychology and a member of a group that has recently partnered with LEAP schools, an NGO called Teach With Africa.  Taylor says it is sending teachers and mental health workers to South Africa “to work with teachers and other professionals there, to enhance the quality of education for students in South Africa.”

Overton and Taylor say there’s a connection between good teachers and student achievement.  Statistics show that less that 30% of black South African students pass the national high school exit exam, and only 5% qualify for university application. Since the LEAP program began in 2004, its students have excelled in the national exam, many of them passing with high grades.

Taylor says the LEAP programs in South Africa have “produced a new generation of young people in the townships who will take their learning back to their community to enhance the building of the community.”

He says this is a very important lesson for communities both in South Africa and in the South Side of Chicago.

The Chicago School of Psychology has established The Center for African Psychology to provide students with an understanding of mental health issues “so they will be more global in their orientation,” says Dr. Taylor.  He adds that the center will give Americans an opportunity to learn about psychology “from an African perspective…and, more importantly, how [problems] are addressed.”

The Chicago School of Psychology has already established partnerships with local African community organizations like the Rwanda International Association—a community organization based in Washington, DC, made up of Rwandans living in the US. The school will soon send students Rwanda and Zambia to train teachers about mental health issues and their treatment.

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