Education system in South Africa

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Compulsory education runs "from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade, whichever occurs first" (Education For All (EFA) 2000 Assessment p.23).

During compulsory education schools must follow Curriculum 2005, including the eight basic areas of education:

  1. Language, literacy and communication
  2. Mathematical literacy, Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences
  3. Human and Social Sciences
  4. Natural Sciences
  5. Technology
  6. Arts and Culture
  7. Economic and Management Sciences
  8. Life Orientation

The Department of Education is responsible for education nationally, setting policies and ensuring that they are implemented by the 9 provinces in South Africa. Schools, colleges, universities and technikons have to keep within certain constraints but higher education and private institutions have more autonomy than state schools.

Education in South Africa may be done in any one of the eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

The majority of schools are state-aided. This means that they receive funding from the government but parents are required to provide contributions to help provision of resources and smaller class sizes. However, children whose parents cannot afford to pay are not excluded.

Basic progression/structure

Age in years National Qualifications Framework
0-5 Pre-primary school. Only a minority of children attend this as there is little provision by provinces, especially for children below 3 years. Consequently pre-school is dominated by the private sector.
6-7 Level 1: Foundation (Grade 0 / reception) at primary school or nursery. This was made compulsory in 2000 due to numerous early entries into grade 1 and thus high repetition rates.
7-9 Level 1: Foundation Junior Primary School (grades I-III). Students learn to read and write in their own language and start to learn another. They also do mathematics.
9-12 Level 1: Intermediate Senior Primary School (grades IV-VI). Studies in the above are deepened and pupils also begin to learn geography, history, general science and practical skills.
12-15 Level 1: Senior Secondary School (grades VII-IX). The focus moves to languages, mathematics, technology, art, natural and social sciences, At the end of grade IX, students obtain the General Education and Training Certificate.
15-18 Levels 2-4 Further Education and Training (FET) provided by Senior Secondary school (grades X-XII). Pupils must take a public exam in at least six subjects to obtain a Senior Certificate. The subjects may be sat at Lower, Standard or Higher grade. A number of other bodies also provide FET including technical colleges which award N3 Certificates.
18-21+ Levels 5-8 Universities offer 3-year long bachelors degrees as well as longer courses for vocational training, masters and doctorate programmes. Courses at Technikons vary from 1-4 years and are more vocational than those at universities. Both require Senior Certificates but higher academic achievement is necessary for a place at university.
Adults (any age) Equivalent to level 1 ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training) Programmes created to tackle the inadequate schooling of many adults during apartheid. These are largely provided by a wide range of non-governmental organisations, serve a variety of purposes based on individuals’ needs including literacy, numeracy and basic education.

Educational Alternatives

There are a small, but growing number of private schools in South Africa that are renowned as excellent. These schools require much higher fees, are free to set their own curriculum and examinations. Many of them are community schools and nearly half of them religious.

Though not encouraged by the government, home education in South Africa is allowed, providing permission is granted by provincial authorities and certain requirements are fulfilled.


Curriculum 2005: Lifelong Learning for the 21st Century: A User’s Guide (Visited 01-July-2005)

Department of Education: Republic of South Africa (Visited 01-July-2005)

Education for all (EFA) 2000 Assessment (Visited 01-July-2005)

Useful Links

Description of the Educational System and Education Sector Strategy
An essay on education in South Africa. (Visited 29-June-2005)

Education Around The World: Republic of South Africa
An overview of school structure, governance and finance, the curriculum, higher education and teacher training. (Visited 29-June-2005)

Education In South Africa
This website provides a good overview of education in South Africa. (Visited 29-June-2005)

Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA)
The ISASA website explaining the function of this body and recent changes in the independent sector.,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/ (Visited 29-June-2005)