South Africa Table Mountain

Education in South Africa, a pillar of its society

Education in South Africa, one of the world's most exiting places to be a student, with more than a million students enrolled in the country’s universities and universities of technology.



South African education has a vibrant higher education sector at the cutting edge of change, including a high quality and globally competitive education system.

Its major research centres focus on indigenous and advanced technologies, developing high-tech solutions, based on in-depth research, for some of the country's most pressing problems and challenges.

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The “future of South Africa” studying the environment - South African education
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Education has been one of the pillars of South Africa’s society right from its beginning. Traditional forms of education were strongly embedded in the cultures of its early inhabitants.

This included oral histories of the tribe, tales of heroism and treachery and practising the skills necessary for survival in a changing and often harsh environment.

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A student’s undivided attention - Education in south Africa
Photograph: Gregor Rohrig

Adults in the Khoi and San communities for example, saw the passing on of cultural history, value and skills within their tribes as one of their main responsibilities.

In the early black communities, especially the Nguni speaking tribes the young men acquired knowledge and skills under the instruction of respected military, religious and political leaders.

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The University of South Africa in Pretoria, one of the world’s largest distance education universities - Education in south Africa

The socialization of women, although sometimes done within age-groups, was more often in small groups of siblings or cousins, and it emphasized domestic and agricultural skills necessary to the survival of the family.

In all of these situations, the transmission of religious values was a vital element of the education process.

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Graduation day - South African education
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It was during the settlement of the Cape Colony in the 17th century that the first more formal European type schools were established by Dutch Reformed Church elders, committed to biblical instruction.

The arrival of the London Missionary Society saw the start of British mission schools, which rapidly increased in number during the early 1800s.

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Pretoria boys high school, English medium high school for boys, located in Brooklyn, Pretoria - Education in south Africa

Following the British victory in the South Africa war, thousands of teachers from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were brought to South Africa, to instil the English language and British cultural values, especially in the two former Afrikaner republics.

To counter the British influence, a group of Afrikaner churches established the Christian National Education program for the Afrikaans speaking population.

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Three happy school girls having fun decorating their faces - South African education
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During the 1980s when the struggle against apartheid reached a peak, black students became committed to destroying the education system. It all started with the compulsory introduction of the “Afrikaans” language.

“Afrikaans” was regarded as the language of the apartheid oppressors, to the curriculums of their schools. This was the spark that ignited student protest actions of enormous proportions.

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Computer classroom of Portland High at Mitchell's Plain, near Cape Town - Education in south Africa

In present-day’s South Africa the Bill of Rights contained in the constitution, stipulates that everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and further education.

The State, through reasonable measures, must progressively make this available and accessible by means of the Department of Education, which is overall responsible for education across the country.

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Schoolchildren often have to walk long distances to school in the rural areas - South African education
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Formal education in South Africa is categorised according to three levels;

    General Education and Training,

    consisting of the Reception Year (Grade 0) through to grade 9. Under the South African Schools Act of 1996, education is compulsory for all South Africans from age 7 (grade 1) to age 15, or the completion of grade 9.

    Further Education and Training,

    consisting of grades 10 to 12, the year of matriculation. It also includes career-oriented education and training offered in other further education institutions such as technical colleges, community colleges and private colleges. Diplomas and certificates are qualifications recognised at this level.

    Higher Education,

    consisting of a range of university degrees, technicon diplomas and certificates up to and including postdoctoral degrees. More then a million students are enrolled in the country's 24 state-funded tertiary institutions: 11 universities, five universities of technology, and six comprehensive institutions.
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Graduation ceremony at the Tshwane University of Technology - Education in south Africa
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Many of South Africa's universities are world-class academic institutions, at the cutting edge of research in certain spheres.

Although subsidised by the state, the universities are autonomous, reporting to their own councils rather than government.

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The internationally renown University of Stellenbosch - Education in south Africa


A matriculation endorsement is required for the study of university degrees, with a minimum of three subjects passed at the higher, rather than standard, grade, although some universities set additional academic requirements.

A standard school-leaving South African senior certificate is sufficient for technical qualifications and diplomas.

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University of Cape Town, located on the Rhodes Estate, on the slopes of Devil's Peak in Cape Town - Education in south Africa
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