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The Educational System in South Africa

This article contains information on everything you need to know about the educational system in South Africa.

The Educational System in South Africa

South Africa is one of the top ranked African countries in the world judging by the level of advancement  in the country in all areas including it’s educational sector. Prior to this time, the South African educational system was not one to reckon with far back in the Colonial era in the 1650’s but the educational system took a different turn when the British rule was embraced.

At that time, the Missionaries provided an avenue for learning to every child both blacks and whites. This gave the Britons the access to control the educational system at the time. During this era too, teacher’s  training was also subject to inequities.

Unlike their white counterparts, students in the black education sector had unqualified hands tutoring them as they were able to qualify as teachers with Standard 8 school leaving certificates. This made the level of education for the blacks very poor and nothing to write home about.

All that was brought to abrupt end when the Bantu educational art was introduced. With that development, the Britons lost control over the education of the blacks.

However, a system of education that supported mass learning was introduced. This was in existence till the country embraced the Democratic rule. Since then, the  country has reformed its educational system to a workable one by setting up policies for this purpose. So, over the years, South Africa have constantly battled with having a functional Educational system in the country and as a result of this, a lot of policies have been put in place to tackle the challenge in the country.

In the present times, South Africa has been able to have an educational system that is favourable to all. This is why this article will be providing information on the educational system of South Africa knowing the information will be beneficial to individuals who might be interested to study in the country.

The educational system of South Africa functions in a way that grants every child access to basic learning. This is why the system made education mandatory for every child between the ages of  Seven years to 15 years.

This implies that every child is expected to get an education from Grade one to Grade nine. However,  from grades ten to twelve, only interested students can further their learning. Most times, students who want to further at this level are required to go to community or private colleges or technical colleges where they have to take a school-leaving examination also referred to as matric. To help with the development, support for South African schools was a reason for the establishment of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).


As at the time of reformation in the educational system, the country had a single department of education till the year 2009 when it was divided into two National departments as well as sub departments in various provinces. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is responsible for schooling, from the Foundation Phase which includes pre-schooling Grade 000 to Grade 0, commonly known as Grade R.

The two divisions includes:

The General Education and Training (GET) and Further Education and Training (FET). The General Education and Training (GET) stage which includes Grades R to 9 and the Further Education and Training (FET) stage which includes Grades 10 to 12.

The GET stage is then subdivided into three phases:

  • The Foundation Phase (Grades R to 3)
  • The Intermediate Phase (Grades 4 to 6)
  • The Senior Phase (Grades 7 to 9).

Foundation Phase

This is defined as Grade R to Grade 3. Here, ethics and fundamental learning techniques are developed. It is at this phase that pupils a groomed. Thus, the success of this phase determines the academic performance of pupils in other phases. It is not as academically demanding as Intermediate and Senior Phase.  However, it is more practical-intensive and has the potential to be emotionally taxing.

This is the phase I would call the ” catch them young” phase and as such, special care and attention is required. Teachers in this phase of education should have a passion for teaching toddlers and enjoy a practical method of teaching.

Intermediate Phase

Intermediate Phase is the education phase from Grade 4 to Grade 6. Here, the main focus is on technical and academic skills. Students in this phase are required to choose from a variety of subjects, ranging from English and Maths to Social Sciences, with fewer practical sessions.

Senior and Further Education and Training Phase

In this phase, the teachings are more advanced and technically intensive. Thus, teachers in this phase are specialised in a given subjects, such as Accounting, etc.

On the other hand the Department Higher Education and Training (DHET) otherwise known as FET is responsible for post-school education and training in universities, colleges and adult education centres.

In terms of administration and proper understanding, the schools are referred to as primary schools, comprising of grade R with grades 1 to 7, and secondary schools: grades 8 to 12. The secondary schools are sometimes called high schools or colleges.

According to the South African Educational system, after college, furthering studies is solely dependent on the choice of the student. A student who desires to further is required to apply to the higher school or university based on his or her choice of the course to study. Once that is done, the student gets the National Senior Certificate which contains the matriculation endorsements. These endorsements form the minimum requirement that qualifies a student for admission into any South African university.

Information on the Educational system of South Africa is never complete without an idea of the financial involvement. Thus, in terms of tuition fees payments, it was discovered that over half of youth  who are between the ages of 18 and 24 years do not have the financial means of paying for their tuition.


On this note, there are  three types of schools that operate in South Africa. They are private schools, governing body-funded schools, and public government-funded schools. While the private schools seem to be enjoying quality education, the quality of education in public schools seem to have gone down.  This is solely because public schools depend on the government for funds which may not be readily available, and consequently, schools that lack government financing are at a high risk due to the lack of qualified teachers. This has always been one of the problems in the South African educational system. Irrespective of this challenge, the South African government has been trying to curb the challenges associated with Educational funding. This gave rise to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

NSFAS provides financial assistance in the form of a study bursary to qualified students who wish to study or are already studying at TVET colleges and public universities.

National Student Financial Aid Scheme is a bursary that the government of South Africa offers to students from the less fortunate backgrounds. The aim of this is to ensure that such students can comfortably go through their studies in the universities or TVET colleges.

The organization funds 42% of the University population and 70% of TVET College students.  Students who intend to study at private institutions are not assisted by NSFAS.

Applicants who are approved for NSFAS funding are covered for the following:

  • Registration
  • Tuition for:
  • Food Accommodation or transport
  • Learning material
  • Personal care

However, not everyone is qualified for this.  Below are lists or categories of individuals who are qualified  for this opportunity in South Africa.

  • You qualify for a NSFAS bursary if you are a South African citizen who plans to study in 2021 or you are already studying at a public university or TVET college and you meet
  • Your combined household income is also a factor
  • Person with a disability with a combined household income of not more than R600,000 per year.


To conclude, the educational system in South Africa is such that it tries to get every student involved.  While Grade R is not compulsory, it gives a child the opportunity to learn important skills that will help the pupils by the time they start schooling properly. And after college, matriculation endorsement is a requirement for gaining admission into the University for those who desire to further their studies.

Currently, individuals who  wish to enter the teaching profession can now do so via a four-year Bachelor of Education degree (B.Ed.) or a three-or four-year Bachelor’s degree which is followed by a one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). All teachers are required to register with the South African Council for Educators (SACE).

With the new development, more qualified teachers are now being produced unlike past years where anybody could qualify to teach with as low as a grade 8 certificate.

Over the years, there has been a significant improvement in the South African  educational system. The National Development Plan (NDP) projects that in the next nine years, all South Africans should have access to a post-school education system that empowers them to fulfil their potential and contribute to the economic growth of the country as active citizens.

So far, this is what the Educational system of South Africa entails.

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