It was the late President Nelson Mandela who reminded South Africans of the important role that education played in society when he said “it is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor". Today, in Vlaeberg, Stellenbosch, alumnus Werner Cloete is opening up opportunities for boys from low income communities to access a private education at a fraction of the cost in the pursuit of Mandela's dream to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged South Africans.
On 18 September, Werner will be the guest speaker at the Alumni Relations Office's Careers Café which will be held between 13:00 and 14:00 in Room 203 of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences building on the corner of Merriman and Ryneveld Street. The TedTalk-styled event is open to all students.
Werner completed a BSc in Chemistry and a PGCE at Stellenbosch University (SU) after being awarded a bursary by Paul Roos Gymnasium upon completion of his matric. He also holds an Honours degree in Theology from the Stellenbosch Theological Institute.
“I was a top achiever at school and as it goes, people typically expect individuals who are strong academically to pursue careers in, for example, medicine, finances, or engineering. But since matric, I knew I wanted to become a teacher and made a firm decision to do so," explains Werner.
“I sensed a strong calling and believed that teaching could make a huge impact on society. The link between my desire to make a difference in South Africa, my passion and skills, made it clear that becoming a teacher would be the right decision".
But, adds Werner, it was not an easy decision to make in a world where the contribution that teachers make to the development of society is not always fully valued.
“In a way, I had to fight against the expectation from others that I pursue a career that was held in much higher esteem and where I could earn more money. I had to decide to pursue the career I was made for."
After obtaining his degree, Werner decided to expand his horizons beyond Stellenbosch.
“I had attended school in Stellenbosch, I lived in Stellenbosch, a lot of my family members lived or studied at Stellenbosch University and I was going to start teaching in Stellenbosch soon. It was time to experience a new environment."
He moved to the United Kingdom where he first started teaching Science at Retford Oaks High School, thereafter moving to the Royal Grammar School where he taught Mathematics and then to Berkhamsted School where he worked as a Chemistry teacher.
In July 2005, Werner packed his bags and headed back to South Africa to start working as a Physics and Chemistry teacher at Paul Roos. Later he became the head of the school's Character Development programme and of the school residence, Prima Nova Hostel. He started the “Engage" programme to promote more effective fathering in the school community and assisted multiple schools, including Maritzburg College, Rondebosch Boys' High, Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl Boys' High and Fontainebleau Primary to start similar programmes.
However, in his 11th year at Paul Roos, the initial calling he had felt to enter teaching was pulling him in a new direction. This time to establish a private school for boys from low income families. The only problem was, he did not yet have the funding or the knowledge on how to establish a school. He also had to step away from a secure teaching position in the faith that, somehow, this dream would become a reality.
Today Werner works as the Principal of that school, Calling Academy in Vlaeberg, a private school which he co-founded and opened in 2018. He is also the CEO of Calling Education, a NGO with the vision of developing the most relevant model of providing high quality education to low income learners for South Africa. The learners' school fees at this private school is partially paid by their parents, government subsidies and a generous group of donors.
In less than three weeks' time, Werner will be at SU to speak about how his calling inspired a career that took him from teaching at some of the most privileged schools in the world to starting a school for lower income boys from scratch.
The Careers Café series was launched in 2016 by the Alumni Relations Office to provide a platform for alumni to engage with the university in a different manner by offering their time and skills to help current students prepare for the careers they want.
For more information about the Careers Café, follow the Alumni Relations Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stellenboschalumni and the SU Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stellenboschuniversity. To attend, RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Two students can also win a seat at the dinner table with Werner on the evening of the Careers Café by entering the Careers Café Facebook competition that will be advertised on the Stellenbosch Alumni page.
Photo: Werner Cloete, second from the left, with some learners that attend the private school, Calling Academy, that he helped establish.