The current state of education in South Africa is a worry to many a parent. A recent Mail&Guardian article states that 80% of the school in South Africa could be 'dysfunctional'. Other newer statistics further suggest that South African pupils lack basic skills and knowlegde compared to their peers around the world and that the education standards in South Africa are, in general, very poor. However, there is a big divide in the school system.
Not only private schools working on a different curriculum than the state's highly controversely discussed CAPS-curriculum, providing also a different set of final exams in the final years of schooling such as IEB or Cambridge exams, do better than the average but also some public schools which either are located in the more affluent suburbs of the cities or which are supported by various (mainly private) initiatives.
Have a look at the special page on the various types of schools in South Africa and about finding the right school in South Africa.
In general, expats generally rank South Africa much higher in regards to providing quality education for their children.
In an expat survey in 2014, international expats rated the options for getting a good private education, quality childcare and exceptional after school activities among the highest in the world. South Africa ranked second highest for raising children. Read more here.
Schooling is compulsory from grade 1 to grade 9 in South Africa, i.e school starts for the children in the year they turn seven and they have to attend school until they turn 15.
This basic general school education and training is divided into three phases:
• Foundation phase: grade R (reception) – grade 3
• Intermediate phase: grade 4 – grade 6
• Senior phase: grade 7 – grade 9
Some schools offer grade 0 or R classes for children in preparation to start school for children starting in the year they turn six. Primary school is attended in grades 1 to 6, while high school goes from grade 7 to grade 12, when the children will have their matric exam, that is matriculation, A-levels or baccalaureate or Abitur.
In grade 3 a second language is introduced usually Afrikaans or English which depends on the first language offered. Some schools offer French instead of Afrikaans like the international schools. Xhosa is taught in Cape Town high schools usually from grade 7, but you will find Xhosa classes taught also in lower grades.
Please note: Sometimes the grades are still referred to as Standards, i.e. standard 2 means grade 4 and standard 6 means grade 8.
South Africa's education system is facing major challenges. Due to a lack of financial support smaller schools in rural areas have to close and a lack of sufficiently educated and motivated teachers as well as a lack of facilities places a huge strain on the system. The financial burden to the local governments as well as to the pupils' families, who often belong to the previously disadvantaged population, is high. The majority of pupils still live in poorest conditions in rural areas or the growing townships of the major cities. However, the standard of education in South Africa varies from region to region and school to school.
After 22 years of democracy the country is still fighting against the historical inequalities. In recent years, the divide in society is now increasing too.
Recent statistics suggest that the education system is failing the majority of children, placing South Africa at the second last position on the international league table. During the last twenty years quite some progress was made to heighten the levels of education in South Africa. However, although we note that the overcrowding and sanitary situations are addressed, we realise that it will take a long time to remedy the lack of funding and initiative of the past and the present. Major improvements are planned to improve this situation and first steps are being taken. If you want to make a difference in the life of South African children, great initiatives to support are:
Source: Department of Education: Latest Statistics on Education in South Africa in 2013. Published in March 2015
Page last updated: 14 June 2016