K-12 Education in South Africa- Primary and Secondary Education

Schooling in South Africa is mandatory for kids from the age of 7-15 years old. All South African kids are allowed to get a basic education as set down in the Constitution, 1996.

In South Africa, there are 2 types of schools:
  • Independent or Private Schools
  • State or Public Schools
The South African School education system comprises:
  •  General Education and Training (GET), or Primary Education: This involves the first 9 years of school education 
  • Further Education and Training (FET): This encompasses vocational and occupational education and training provided at Colleges. 
  • Adult Education and Training (ABET):  It is provided at both General and Further Education and Training levels. 

School System in South Africa: A Closer Look

Schooling in South Africa starts at the age of 4 with grade 0, also referred to as reception, or grade-R. Grades 1 to 9 are compulsory in South Africa and considered as General Education and Training (GET). Grades 10- 12 are classified as Further Education and Training (FET) and are not compulsory.  Grade 12 is the year of matriculation, which is needed for higher education. 

Pre-Primary /Preschool Education

Kids between the ages 4- 6 years can attend Preschools in South Africa. The Preschool education is divided into 2 grades:
  • Pre-Grade R: This grade is for kids up to the age of 4 years old
  • Grade R/1: This grade is for kids up to the age of 5-6 years  
The preschools in South Africa focus on life skills, literacy and numeracy.

General Education and Training (GET)

 The General Education and Training, or Primary education comprises of Grades 0-9 and is compulsory to attend. The General Education and Training corresponds to the National Qualification Framework (NQF) Level 1 and comprises of three phases-
  • Foundation Phase: Also, called as Junior Primary and runs from Grade R/1 to 3. This phase lasts for 3 years and kids are taught basic subjects such as mathematics, reading and writing.  
  • Intermediate phase: Runs from Grade 4 to 6. Kids between the ages 9-12 years attend the Intermediate phase and learn history, language and life skills, geography, science, and a second language. 
  • Senior Phase: Runs from Grade 7 to 9 and kids at the age of 12 begin this phase and continue until 15 years old. This education at this phase is provided by the secondary schools. 
During the General Education and Training level studies, pupils are required to opt for one handy-craft skills class, such as woodwork, needlework and so on. 

Basic Courses: Mathematics, Languages, Natural Sciences, Life Orientation, Social Science, Arts & Culture, Technology, and many more.

Credential Awarded: General Education and Training Certificate

Assessment: Annual National Assessments-ANA is done in numeracy and literacy in the foundation phase, while in languages and numeracy in the intermediate phase and Grade 9. These assessments are standardised throughout the country. Students are assessed in the language and numeracy skills they have learnt during a particular school year.

Further Education and Training (FET)

The Further Education and Training expands the knowledge in several subjects, thereby helping students to develop theoretical as well as practical skills associated with a particular profession and also prepares them for further studies.  This level consists of a career-oriented education and training in Further Education and Training institutions such as private, technical and community colleges. It consists academic, vocational oriented and occupation-specific courses/programmes. The FET is non-compulsory and comprises of all education and training from the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) levels 2 to 4 and the National Technical Certificate 1 to 3 in FET colleges. 

Admission Requirements: Students must have completed Grade 9 or Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) for admittance to FET courses. 

Duration: 3 years

Grades: 10 to 12 

Age: 15-18 years old

Credential Awarded: National Senior Certificate/Matric Certificate

National Qualification Framework: Level 2-4

Areas of Study: Language, Mathematics, technology, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Economics and management Science, Life Orientation, and Arts and Culture. 

Courses Offered: The FET colleges provide several programmes/courses, such as commerce and management, agriculture, education, engineering, arts and culture, business, manufacturing and technology, building construction and security, training and development, and services.

National Senior Certificate Exam

The NSC examinations commonly called as “matric” indicates that the student has completed 12 years of formal education. 

Students in order to get the National Senior Certificate are required to take up at least six subjects. The compulsory subject’s for the exam are- Two languages- home language and another, Mathematics and Life Orientation.

Applying Ways and Means

Private Schools in South Africa have their own admission requirements and policies.  For admittance to a public school in South Africa, following documents are needed-
  • Application form: It should be complete and include all the relevant details.
  • Birth certificate of Child
  • Child's Immunisation or vaccination card
  • Last School Records/Reports of Child
  • ID Proof: Any valid ID document or permanent residency permit
If the child is not a South African national or does not have a permanent residency, in that case, the following documents are also needed along with the above mentioned documents-
  • Study permit
  • Temporary residence permit: To get this, contact the South African Embassy in your residence. Also, you’re requires to submit the following documents to get the permit-
  • Completed application form
  • Valid passport
  • Acceptance Letter issued from the school
  • Fee Receipt
The school fees vary depending upon the type of school-Private or Public schools. 

To know about the State Schools in South Africa, contact the Local Provincial Education Department.
Website: https://www.education.gov.za/

School Academic Year

The school academic year commences in mid-January and ends in early December. The year is divided into the following four terms:

Term 1: Starts in mid-January and ends in late March/beginning of April along with a 10-day holidays in between the session
Term 2: Starts in early April and ends in mid-June with a 3-week holidays in between
Term 3: Begins in early July and ends in late September with a 10-day break
Term 4: Starts in early October and ends in early December

The Independent or private schools academic calendar may vary. 


The school day generally begins at 08:00 but may begin as early as 07:00 in the summer in the Northern regions. Schools finish at 13:00 for the lower grades and between 14:00 and 15:00 for the higher grades. 
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