Wethinkcode, SPARK Schools and FNB; a story of opportunity and talent

The annual FNB Business Innovation Awards recognises small to medium sized businesses that leverage innovation to create jobs and build scalable businesses in any industry. At the June 2015 awards, one of the finalists, SPARK Schools achieved a special recognition and a promise from FNB Business to help its ongoing mission of providing high value low cost education. Founded by Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison, SPARK Schools offers primary school education with a focus on values and individualised learning that accelerates scholar achievement. The network of schools has achieved impressive growth and the founders have been internationally recognised for focusing their entrepreneurial flair towards the challenges of education in South Africa. One of the initiatives FNB completed to fulfill its promise was the allocation of one of their sponsored Wethinkcode students to work at SPARK Schools during their internship. FNB is also one of the founding sponsors of Wethinkcode, a free programming academy for anyone who can pass the online tests and survive the bootcamps. Co-founder Arlene Mulder recognised a gap in South African IT education and the school has also seen impressive growth in sponsors and student numbers since starting out in 2015.

FNB and other sponsors play an active role at Wethinkcode

Wethinkcode’s greatest asset is its peer to peer learning environment which Mulder and her co-founders have created, within which the franchised coding curriculum from 42 in Paris is made available to students who largely self-organise to deliver projects and complete the course. During my last visit, I could sense the incredible energy and inspiring culture of over 300 students self-learning and helping eachother, many of whom would not have had access to such learning opportunities due to financial limitations. FNB and other sponsors play an active role in the school beyond financial support with experienced practitioners often visiting to coach and speak to students to help them develop the life skills and workplace awareness they will need. Students must also complete a four month internship at their corporate sponsor, this gives them the workplace experience and helps position them for employment. Students also have an opportunity to engage with sponsors at regular open days on the campus and this also helps ensure that allocations of students for internships is meaningful and builds on existing relationships.

Johan expressed a passion for education

Part of the initial cohort of Wethinkcode students was Johan Meiring from Bloemfontein who I met at one of these open days as FNB was preparing for our intake of students for their internship. Quite confidently he told me he flew through the online assessments and flourished in the intensive self-learning environment, having had some prior coding experience he quickly become a source of insight and help for other students. He grabbed the opportunity of getting into the school and recognises that it “gives you a basis you can build on”, especially with the foundational learning of C in the first year which positions students to extend their coding skills into other languages. Meiring also expressed a passion for education and hoped that ultimately he could put his tech skills in the service of worthy institutions that are tackling the grand challenges facing schools across South Africa. As part of FNB’s commitment to SPARK Schools, Meiring was seconded to their IT team for his four month internship, where he helped build technology solutions and gained valuable workplace experience in his desired industry.

he was offered full time employment at SPARK Schools

Meiring’s passion for education and newly acquired programming skills meant he was a perfect fit for the role and ultimately was offered full time employment at SPARK Schools where he now works and is pursuing his career ambitions. I caught up with him recently to chat about his journey and how these connections in his life had helped him achieve true vocational fulfillment. Much of this he attributes to the support of his manager, Darren Bilse, who is Director of Technology at SPARK Schools. An ambitious vision of growth in any business requires scaleable and reliable technology, which depends on having talented people such as Johan Meiring. These growth plans will now also benefit from his new skills and experience as he helps drive innovation in South African education, using technology to improve the education of SPARK’s 4000 learners.

SPARK Schools and Wethinkcode are successful, founder-managed businesses that are making a difference and we are proud to be part of their innovative journey of radically changing education in South Africa.

It’s more than just business to FNB, this is why we help.

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