The current state of education in South Africa is a worry to many a parent. Many schools in South Africa could be described as 'dysfunctional' but according to the Department of Education the schooling system is finally 'changing for the better'. Most of the statistics we accessed, however, 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 depending on the provinces as well as the different school districts and even various schools in these districts.
Private schools working on a different curriculum than the state's highly controversely discussed CAPS-curriculum, generally have better retention rates and higher education standards - and they provide a different set of final exams in the final years of schooling such as IEB or Cambridge exams. Students in these schools often do better than students in most public school. However, there are excellent public schools, often so-called former Model C-Schools, which either are mainly located in the more affluent suburbs of the cities and 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 quite high in regards to providing quality education for their younger children. International expats rated the options in South Africa for getting a good private education, quality childcare and exceptional after-school-activities among the highest in the world - in 2014. More recently, the 2019 expat survey scores are not as high anymore, but for learning South Africa still ranks 21st out of 33 countries.
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:
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. The standard of education in South Africa varies from region to region and school to school.
Although some 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 (OECD 2017), there are signs that during the last twenty-five years quite some progress was made to increase the levels of education in South Africa. Efforts to address inequality, overcrowding and disastrous sanitary situations need to be addressed and it will certainly take a long time to remedy the lack of funding and initiative of the past. Major developments such as the introduction of mandatory early childhood education have been implemented already and an increased expenditure per pupil will improve the situation as first steps already have been taken. If you want to help and make a difference in the life of South African children, here are some great initiatives to support:
More info on Living in Cape Town with Kids
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