Matie Voices

Dr Marcelle Mentor

Alumna of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

“The levels of disparity in South Africa are gut wrenching and harmful. We have to do better.”

Having worked in the field of education in both South Africa and the USA, Dr Marcelle Mentor believes that there are many parallels between the two countries and many lessons to be learned from both sides.

“The most common parallel is racial and class disparity. I believe that education is key to address this,” she says.

As someone who grew up in Macassar in the Western Cape during apartheid and who had to travel two hours each day to school because there were no English medium schools for Coloured children in the Helderberg basin, Marcelle was taught that education is the pathway to liberation.

As professor at the College of New Rochelle, New York, where she teaches education classes to master’s students and do advisement and practical observation, she still believes this.

“I see it reflected back home in SA – where the lack of education still keeps whole communities in poverty. The levels of disparity in South Africa are gut wrenching and harmful. We have to do better,” she believes.

Marcelle comes from a family with a rich legacy of teachers on both her parents’ sides.

“My mom, Joan Abrahams, was a primary school teacher for 47 years and she had two siblings who were also teachers. My dad also had two siblings who taught, and my grandfather was a school principal.”

Marcelle completed her BA and honours degrees as well as a Higher Diploma in Education (HDE) at the University of the Western Cape. In 2000, she became the first Coloured teacher to be employed by Paul Roos Gymnasium after apartheid.

She enrolled for an MPhil degree in applied ethics at Stellenbosch University in 2004.

“I chose this degree as an opportunity to branch out of classroom teaching and do consultation with businesses.”

The degree opened many doors for her, and still does.

“I still consult with organisations around race and implicit bias. I have also held a number of managerial positions here in the USA, and as I pursued my PhD, it definitely aided my style of management and the way in which I approach ethical dilemmas.”

She moved to the USA in 2005 to further her studies and completed her PhD at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 2016.

During her time in the USA, she has done extensive professional development in NYC schools through the Centre for Professional Education for Teachers (CPET) at Columbia University.

She is set to move into a lecturer position in the English Education Department at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she will teach as well as manage the master’s programme. She also hopes to build bridges between teachers from SA and the USA through an exchange programme.

“Watch this space…” she says.

- By Pia Nänny -