South Africa

Vijay Reddy
Fabian Arends
Andrea Juan
Cas Prinsloo
Human Sciences Research Council

Overview of Education System

The national Department of Basic Education in South Africa is responsible for promulgating education policies that guide schooling practices in all nine provinces of the country. According to the National Education Policy Act 27 of 1996, and the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, the Minister of Basic Education is responsible for defining national standards and norms for education planning, provision, governance, monitoring, and evaluation.1 Provincial governments are responsible for implementing education policies, and monitoring and evaluating progress in each of the country’s nine provinces.

The South African education system is categorized into three hierarchical levels: the General Education and Training Phase, comprising Reception to Grade 9 (Grades R to 9); the Further Education and Training Phase, comprising Grades 10 to 12, including technical colleges, community youth colleges, and other nonformal, post-general education; and the Higher Education Phase, comprising degree, diploma, and certificate programs up to the doctoral level. The curriculum divides the General Education and Training Phase into three subphases: Foundation Phase (Reception to Grade 3), Intermediate Phase (Grades 4 to 6), and Senior Phase (Grades 7 to 9). Grade 9 is the final grade in the compulsory General Education and Training Phase of basic schooling, before transition into the Further Education and Training Phase of schooling that culminates in the national matriculation and school leaving examination.

The General and Further Education and Training Phases are provided by two types of schools: public schools and independent schools (private schools). Independent schools must be registered by a head of school and must maintain standards comparable to public schools. Due to the legacies of the Apartheid regime and prevailing socioeconomic conditions, two types of public schools have emerged: African schools, located in areas with the lowest economic status where the majority of Africans live; and multiracial schools, comprising former white schools, Indian schools, and “Coloured” schools. The historical impact of these separate schools is significant, and it is rare for other racial groups to attend African schools.

In 2015, there were 25,720 schools (of both types): 95.6 percent public, and 4.4 percent independent. The population in these schools consisted of 12.8 million students, with 96.1 percent enrolled in public schools and 3.9 percent in independent schools. In the same year, these schools collectively employed 416,013 teachers and principals, with 91.2 percent in public schools and 8.8 percent in independent schools.2

Languages of Instruction

South Africa recognizes 11 official spoken languages, in addition to sign language. The Minister of Basic Education determines the standards of language policy, and parents have the right to choose the language of instruction for their children. In public schools, the school governing bodies decide on the school language policy and promotion of multilingualism, and the provincial education department must make provision for instruction in the chosen language.3 There is a demand for mother tongue instruction in the first three years of formal schooling. Schools with higher grades have chosen either English or Afrikaans as the language of instruction.4,5