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South African Education System

In South Africa, education system is managed and administered by the National Department of Education. 

National Qualification Framework (NQF)

The National Qualification Framework (NQF) is a framework that lays down the guidelines, criteria and conditions for the Educational Institutions and their programmes. 

Level 1: The General Education and Training corresponds to this level. It consists of compulsory education phase, grade 0-9, or non-formal education-Adult Basic Education and Training.

Level 2, 3, 4: This level comprises of senior secondary school phase that runs from grades 10-12, or general/ career specific programmes provided at community, technical or private colleges, or programmes provided at the workplace or regional training centers.

Level 5, 6, 7, and 8: This level comprises of higher education degrees and diplomas obtained from Universities, public and private professional colleges and institutes, and Universities of Technology.

South African Education System Profile

Pre-Primary Education

Public pre-primary/preschools education is provided by few of the provincial departments of education. Preschool is split up into two grades-
  •  Pre-Grade R: This grade is for kids up to the age of 4 years
  • Grade R: This grade is for kids up to the age of 5-6 years  
Areas of Study: Language and life skills, arts, and mathematics.

Bands of Education

The Education in South Africa is split into three strata-
  • General Education and Training
  • Further Education and Training
  • Higher Education and Training, or Tertiary Education
Educational qualifications in South Africa are structured within the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF).

General Education and Training

According to the South African Schools Act, 1996, all children from ages 7 until 15 are required to have education. General Education and Training also includes Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET), which is accessible and available to adults who wish to complete their fundamental education. 
  • Grades: 0 to 9
  • Credential: General Education and Training Certificate
The General Education and Training corresponds to the Level 1 of the National Qualification and comprises of three phases-
  • Foundation Phase: Also, called as Junior Primary and runs from Grade R/1 to 3
  • Intermediate Phase: Runs from Grade 4 to 6
  • Senior Phase: Runs from Grade 7 to 9

Further Education and Training

This level of education corresponds to the Level 2-4 of the National Qualification Framework (NQF) and is not compulsory. The FET leads to a Senior Certificate and students get career-oriented and practical education and training.
  • Areas of Study: Language, Mathematics, technology, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Economics and management Science, Life Orientation, and Arts and Culture. 
  • Grades: 10-12
  • Credential: Senior Certificate

Higher Education and Training

The Higher Education or Tertiary Education corresponds to Level 5-8 of the National Qualification Framework (NQF). The Higher Education or Tertiary Education in South Africa covers undergraduate and postgraduate courses of study. There are 24 public universities in South Africa and these are split into:
  • Comprehensive Universities
  • Traditional Universities
  • Technikons, or Universities of Technology
The Higher Education Institutions in South Africa provide Bachelor’s, Honors, Master’s and Doctorate Degrees. 

Education System: At a Glance


 Education Bands/Types Grades/Qualifications
 Primary School Grade R-Grade 6
 Secondary Level Grade 7- Grade 9
 Further Education and Training Grade 10- Grade 12 (Matriculation)
 Higher Education and Training Certificate & Diploma (1-2 years), Bachelor's degree (3-6 years),
Honors (One additional year plus bachelor studies),
Master (2 years), and Doctorate (2 years)
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