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South Africa

Educational System—overview

In the year 2000 approximately more than 52 million children and youth (50.5 percent of them female) were enrolled in 29,386 primary and secondary schools in South Africa. In addition, 125,000 students (youth and adults) were enrolled in technical colleges, 300,000 students (54.6 percent female) were enrolled in universities, and 190,000 students (45.5 percent female) attended technikons (vocational and technical tertiary level schools). Formal education in South Africa falls into three categories:

  1. General Education and Training, incorporating a preparatory year and students up through grade 9.
  2. Further Education and Training, covering grades 10 through 12 for regularly enrolled youth, out of school students, adult learners, youth and adults enrolled in technical, youth, and community colleges, industry-based education and training initiatives, and other nonformal instructional programs.
  3. Higher Education, which includes a broad range of educational institutions and programs leading to certificates, diplomas, and degrees.

The three levels of education are integrated in a National Qualifications Framework as outlined by the South African Qualification Authority Act of 1996 that aimed to establish a seamless system of education for South Africans of all ages and instructional levels. Nearly all the schools at the primary and junior secondary levels were publicly funded. Enrollments in private primary schools represented only 1 percent of the total primary enrollment in 1995. At the preprimary, senior secondary, and tertiary levels, growth in the number of private institutions has been observed since 1994, particularly with the educational reforms stimulated by the various education acts passed in the 1990s and later.

Preprimary education for children up to age six is optional in South Africa. Nine years of government-paid, compulsory basic education is provided to pupils between the ages of 6 and 15, where 6 grades of primary schooling are offered to pupils generally between the ages of 6 and 12 (though many older students also are enrolled at this level), followed by 3 grades of junior secondary education for children between the ages of 12 and 15. The first year of junior secondary schooling takes place in the primary school setting while the next two years are delivered in senior secondary schools. Senior secondary schools provide either academic training or vocational and technical education and training. They are designed to accommodate students between the ages of 16 and 20 (though many older students attend), with general education programs generally lasting three years and vocational and technical training programs lasting 2, 3, or 4 years. Higher education institutions of various types provide education and training opportunities for students after the senior secondary level who have graduated with the appropriate secondary level certificates, diplomas, or degrees to qualify for admission.

In the South Africa of the post-Apartheid era, the education system has been undergoing major reforms to more equitably distribute educational opportunities to all South Africans—blacks, coloureds, and Asians as well as whites—and to heighten educational quality at all levels. The most significant education innovation introduced since 1994 perhaps has been the new curriculum design, Curriculum 2005. Based on the concept of Outcomes Based Education (OBE), Curriculum 2005 identifies the new national curriculum framework introduced in grade 1 in 1998 and progressively being added to subsequent grades of basic education over several years. Intended to replace the "banking concept" of education characteristic of education in South Africa during the Apartheid era and first years of the new South African regime, OBE regards learning as an interactive process between and among educators and learners, with the learner at the center and the teacher as facilitator. Stressing cooperative learning, especially group work on common tasks, OBE focuses on what learners should know and do. The goal is to produce active, lifelong learners with a thirst for knowledge and a love for learning.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSouth Africa - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education