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The South African education system consists of independent schools and government schools.
Private education is far more expensive than public education, but generally offers high standards and ample resources. Fees are steep, though, and these schools are attended mostly by children from middle- and high-income families.
Government schools are funded by provincial education departments, and standards vary widely. Schools wholly dependent on government funding are typically short of resources and provide a poor standard of education. On the other hand, there are fee-paying government schools run by governing bodies consisting of parents and alumni. These schools are in a much better position to offer high-quality education. Some of the country’s best schools fall into this category, though in some cases fees can be almost as expensive as private schools.
Public schools in South Africa
Many of South Africa's public schools depend on the government for funding and supplies. Each province is responsible for ensuring its schools are equipped and have enough money to run properly. As a result, standards vary immensely, depending on the efficiency and wealth of the province.
Many children receive low standards of education through a lack of qualified teachers and sometimes an outright absence of equipment in classrooms. Due to these shortcomings, parents that can afford it prefer to send their children to private schools.
In the bigger cities, public school standards are generally better and in some cases may meet expat requirements. Public schools draw students and funds from their suburbs and, in general, wealthier areas have better schools. The best government schools tend to be those that are partially administrated and funded by parents and a governing body.
Private schools in South Africa
With the exception of some expats living in high-income areas, most seek private education for their children. Depending on their location, expats are spoilt for choice when it comes to private schools.
Many private schools have religious origins and aim to provide pupils with a spiritual foundation to complement their academic offerings. Others subscribe to a particular teaching philosophy.
Similar to other countries, private schools generally have better facilities, smaller classes and a larger selection of extra-curricular activities. This is also true of international schools in South Africa.
International schools in South Africa
There are a number of international schools in South Africa that offer a variety of globally-recognised curricula, such as that of the UK, the US or the International Baccalaureate. Many expat parents find that international schools offer a sense of familiarity and continuity to children who are able to carry on with their home curricula. International schools are also a great way to meet fellow expat families.
However, there are two major downsides to international schooling. Firstly, fees can be exorbitant, and secondly, it can often be difficult to secure a place in some of the more popular schools. To stand the best chance at being admitted, parents should start the application process as early as possible. To mitigate costs, expats moving to South Africa for work should try asking for provision for school fees as part of their relocation package.
Homeschooling in South Africa
Homeschooling is increasingly popular with expat parents wanting to educate their children in South Africa. To do this, they have to apply to the head of the relevant provincial Department of Education and register their child. The lessons they offer must follow Department guidelines and records of the child’s coursework must be maintained.
Special educational needs in South Africa
There are a number of special-needs schools across South Africa, both public and private, catering to a variety of conditions. However, parents of children with special needs generally find that government schooling, in practice, offers few resources and little support. For this reason, it's best to opt for a private school if possible.
Many mainstream private schools cater for special-needs students alongside the general student population in an inclusive approach, providing extra support where necessary. This may come with extra charges over and above annual school fees. Should a more specialised environment be required, private special-needs schools should be considered.
Tutors in South Africa
In South Africa, tutors are frequently hired to assist students with subjects that they find difficult, such as maths or science. They are also often enlisted to help students prepare for the final school-leaving exams in Grade 12.
Tutors can be particularly helpful for expat children adjusting to a new curriculum or new language, providing extra support through the transition period.
There are a number of reputable tutoring agencies and companies throughout South Africa. TeachMe2 and Tutor Elite both come highly recommended and have tutors all over the country who are able to assist with a variety of subjects.
►The Colleges and Universities in South Africa page provides an overview of tertiary education in the country
"The private schools are all very good from what I have heard. To allow your kids to socialise with South Africans, I would recommend not doing the usual and send your kids to an American, British or German School but a South African one." Read Arnd from Germany's expat interview for more.
"International schools follow the school schedule and holidays from your home country. These are perfect if you want a seamless transition in their schedule, but keep in mind they will have holidays that you don’t, so be prepared for that." For more of Phil's thoughts on schooling in South Africa, read his expat interview.
Are you an expat living in South Africa?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Africa. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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