Expats have a variety of choice when it comes to education and schools in Johannesburg. There are many government-run public schools of varying quality, independent private schools as well as international schools.
Government schools such as King Edward's School and Parktown Boys are excellent. Regrettably, however, these are the exception. Instead, the majority of expats send their children to private or international schools in and around the city.
Private tuition can be expensive – as much as 140,000 ZAR a year for an elite private boarding school – but the standards of private schools in the city are generally in line with high quality schools in the West.
Some of the best private schools in Johannesburg include St Stithians College, St John's College, St Mary’s School and St Peter's. Additionally, a number of schools offer international curricula such as the American International School of Johannesburg, Charterhouse School and Horizon International High School.
As is the case almost everywhere, the waiting lists for the best schools in Johannesburg are long, and expats are advised to apply as far in advance as possible if they want to their children to attend their school of choice.
How to choose the right school in Johannesburg
Most expats send their children to one of the four international schools in Johannesburg
. However, there is also a large number of excellent South African private schools that should be taken into consideration.
Finding the best school for one's children depends on many factors and is made more challenging because each child is unique, each school is unique and every expat family has their own requirements. There are, however, a few key points which highlight some of the differences between international and private schools that expat parents should consider.
Arguably the most difficult factor to evaluate, a parent can only really evaluate a school's approach to academics once their child has been there. This is one area where talking to other expats can be valuable. Many would, however, argue that South African private schools lag behind the US and UK academically, especially in maths and early reading. Expats who think it best that their children continue their home curriculum or have concerns about their child catching up with their peers should they move back home may prefer an international school for its familiarity and security.
At the same time, however, the academic standards of South African private schools are still generally good, and they particularly excel in providing a balanced education that also focuses on sports, culture, discipline and life skills. When researching a school, see whether it participates in national and international examinations and find out how well its students perform.
Language of instruction
The German and French international schools in Johannesburg are the best options for expats interested in fully bilingual instruction. Private schools often do offer European languages but will have English as their medium of instruction and may place a greater emphasis on local languages such as Zulu and Afrikaans.
Sports and extra-curricular activities
All schools offer extramural sports but the parents of children that are invested in specific sports and want to continue with them should investigate the extra-curricular activities offered by the schools they're interested in.
Private schools are usually perfect for football, cricket and rugby but less so for sports like basketball and softball. In the summer, swimming and tennis tend to be major sports at both international and private schools.
The same holds true for cultural activities such as debating, chess and music classes. Expat parents should also look at the offerings available as part of the curriculum, especially in the case of music, as some schools hire external tutors to teach during school hours.
A holistic approach
Regardless of which school their parents choose for them, children will learn tremendously from the experience of integrating into a new environment. Expatriate parents who want a holistic education for their children should, however, find out whether there is a balance between sports, academics and cultural activities. Another good way of seeing whether a school is compatible with their beliefs and their hopes for their children is to find out about its vision for the future and its core principles.
Finding out about the way a school operates can also provide insight into the way it educates its students. Looking at the predominant teaching style, the range of subjects and extra murals offered by a school is important but it should also be asked whether it offers activities such as outreach programmes, entrepreneur days and job shadowing exercises.
Expat children (and their parents) are likely to make friends no matter which school they attend. But, depending on the type of school they choose, the kinds of friends they have will probably be different. Children who attend international schools are more likely to make friends with their fellow expats, while those at private schools will make more South African friends.
Shared interests or experiences are usually one of the positive aspects of befriending one's fellow expatriates, but having expat friends means they're more likely to move away. On the other hand, having local friends allows a quicker and possibly deeper integration into a new country, although cultural differences do sometimes have an effect on these kinds of friendships.
Nonetheless, expats and their children will most likely have ample opportunities to socialise with both their fellow expatriates and South Africans, especially if they live in expat-friendly areas.
Many expats get their school fees reimbursed by the companies they work for. Therefore, it may not be a major concern for everyone, but it is still necessary to find out whether extras such as uniforms, bus services and extra-curricular activities are covered. Fee structures and prices between schools vary greatly but, in general, private schools in Johannesburg are substantially cheaper than the international schools.
More than anywhere else in South Africa, the location of an expat child's school is important, especially in relation to home and their parents' workplace. The traffic in Johannesburg is arguably the worst in the country, particularly during morning and evening rush hour times. A good school in a safe area either within walking distance or with its own bus service is ideal.