Programmes » Education in SA

Education in South Africa

The responsibility for education in South Africa is shared by the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The DBE deals with all schools from Grade R to Grade 12, and adult literacy programmes, while the DHET deals with universities, and other post-school education and training, as well as coordinating the Human Resource Development Strategy for South Africa (HRDSSA).

The DBE develops, maintains and supports a South African school education system for the 21st century in which all citizens have access to lifelong learning, as well as education and training, which will, in turn, contribute towards improving quality of life and building a peaceful, prosperous and democratic South Africa.

  • improve overall educational performance in the long term by increasing the number of five-year-old learners enrolled in publicly funded Grade R classes in public and independent primary schools and community based early childhood development sites from 734 650 in 2011 to 950 000 learners by 2014/15
  • reduce the number of illiterate adults in South Africa by 4,7 million by 2015/16 through the Kha Ri Gude mass literacy campaign.
  • increase literacy and contribute to job creation by recruiting and training 41 870 volunteer educators for the Kha Ri Gude mass literacy campaign in 2014/15.
  • improve the learning and teaching of critical foundational skills by developing, printing and distributing literacy/languages, numeracy/ mathematics and English first additional language workbooks to all learners from grades R to 9 each year.
  • improve the quality of mathematics, science and technology education in order to increase the number of matric mathematics and science passes at all Dinaledi schools by providing additional learner and teacher support materials as well as additional training for mathematics and science teachers and monitoring the performance and participation of all Dinaledi schools in these subjects over the MTEF period.
  • improve the capacity of technical secondary schools to contribute to skills development and training in the country.

Education in South Africa is governed by the following key policies and legislation:

  • The fundamental policy framework of the Ministry of Basic Education is stated in the Ministry’s first White Paper on Education and Training in a Democratic South Africa: First Steps to Develop a New System, published in February 1995.
  • The National Education Policy Act (Nepa), 1996 (Act 27 of 1996) brought into law the policies, and legislative and monitoring responsibilities of the Minister of Education, as well as the formal relations between national and provincial authorities. It laid the foundation for the establishment of the Council of Education Ministers (CEM), as well as the Heads of Education Departments Committee (Hedcom), as intergovernmental forums that would collaborate in the development of a new education system. Nepa of 1996, therefore, provided for the formulation of national policy in general, and Further Education and Training (FET) policies for curriculum, assessment, language and quality assurance.
  • The South African Schools Act (Sasa), 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) is aimed at ensuring that all learners have access to quality education without discrimination, and makes schooling compulsory for children aged seven to 15. It provides for two types of schools namely independent and public schools. The provision in the Act for democratic school governance, through school-governing bodies (SGBs), has been implemented in public schools countrywide. The school-funding norms, outlined in Sasa of 1996, prioritise redress and target poverty regarding the allocation of funds for the public-schooling system.
  • The Adult Basic Education and Training (Abet) Act, 2000 (Act 52 of 2000) regulates Abet; provides for the establishment, governance and funding of public adult learning centres; provides for the registration of private adult learning centres; and provides for quality assurance and quality promotion in Abet.
  • Sasa of 1996 was amended by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2005 (Act 24 of 2005), which authorises the declaration of schools in poverty-stricken areas as “no-fee schools”, and by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2007 (Act 31 of 2007), which provides for the functions and responsibilities of school principals.
  • The Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (Act 76 of 1998) regulates the professional, moral and ethical responsibilities of educators, as well as teachers’ competency requirements. The Act and the South African Council for Educators (SACE) regulate the teaching corps.
  • The design of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was refined with the publication of the Higher Education Qualifications Framework in the Government Gazette in October 2007, to provide 10 NQF levels.
  • The NCS grades R to 12 replaced the policy document, A Résumé of Industrial Programmes in Schools, Report 550 (89/03).
  • The Education White Paper on ECD (2000) provides for the expansion and full participation of five-year-olds in pre-school Grade R education by 2010, and an improvement in the quality of programmes, curricula and teacher development for birth to four-year-olds and six- to nine-year-olds.
  • The Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education (2001) describes the DBE’s intention to implement inclusive education at all levels in the system by 2020. The system will facilitate the inclusion of vulnerable learners and reduce the barriers to learning through targeted support structures and mechanisms that will improve the retention of learners in the education system, particularly learners who are prone to dropping out.
  • The Education Laws Amendment Act, 2002 (Act 50 of 2002) set the age of admission to Grade 1 as the year in which the child turns seven. However, the school-going age of Grade 1 was changed to age five, if children turned six on or before 30 June in their Grade 1 year.
  • The Umalusi Council sets and monitors standards for general and FET in South Africa, in accordance with the NQF Act, 2008 (Act 67 of 2008), and the General and FET Quality Assurance Act, 2001 (Act 58 of 2001).
The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 gives expression to the knowledge, skills and values worth learning in South African schools. This curriculum aims to ensure that children acquire and apply knowledge and skills in ways that are meaningful to their own lives. In this regard, the curriculum promotes knowledge in local contexts, while being sensitive to global imperatives.

The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 represents a policy statement for learning and teaching in South African schools and comprises the following:


a) Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements for each approved school subject as listed in the policy document National policy pertaining to the programme and promotion requirements of the National Curriculum Statement Grades R – 12;

b) The policy document National policy pertaining to the programme and promotion requirements of the National Curriculum Statement Grades R – 12 which describes the number of subjects to be offered by learners in each grade and the promotion requirements to be obtained; and

c) The policy document National Protocol for Assessment Grades R – 12 which standardises the recording and reporting processes for Grades R – 12 within the framework.

Provincial departments of education

The role of the DBE is to translate government’s education and training policies and the provisions of the Constitution into a national education policy and legislative framework. Therefore, the department works closely with the PEDs to ensure that provincial budgets and strategies are in line with and support national policies.

The national department shares a concurrent role with the PEDs for basic schooling and ECD, but it is the responsibility of each PEDs to finance and manage its schools directly.

District offices are the PEDs’ main interface with schools. Not only are they central to the process of gathering information and diagnosing problems in schools, but they also perform a vital support and intervention function. This includes:

  • organising training for personnel;
  • dealing with funding;
  • resourcing bottlenecks; and
  • solving labour-relations disputes.

District offices are key to ensuring that school principals remain accountable to the PEDs and that accountability lines within the school to the principal and to the SGB are maintained.

Equity in education expenditure between and within provinces is achieved through the equitable division of national revenue between provinces, making use of the Equitable Shares Formula, the National Norms and Standards for School Funding, and the national post-provisioning norms.

The norms are progressive, with 60% of a province’s non-personnel expenditure going to the poorest 40% of learners in public schools. The poorest 20% of learners receive 35% of non-personnel resources, while the richest 20% receive 5%.

Council of Education Ministers

The CEM – consisting of the Ministers of Basic Education, Higher Education and Training and the nine provincial members of the executive councils for education – meets regularly to:

  • discuss the promotion of national education policy;
  • share information and views on all aspects of education in South Africa; and
  • coordinate action on matters of mutual interest.

Heads of Education Departments Committee

Hedcom comprise the Director-General (DG) of the DBE, the deputy DGs of the department and the heads of provincial departments of education.

The purpose of the committee is to:

  • facilitate the development of a national education system;
  • share information and views on national education; and
  • coordinate administrative action on matters of mutual interest and advise the department on a range of specified matters related to the proper functioning of the national education system.


Umalusi is responsible for the development and management of a sub-framework of qualifications for general and FET and for the attendant quality assurance. Umalusi means “herder” or “shepherd” which in Nguni culture, is the person who is the guardian of the family’s wealth.

The council is tasked with the certification of the following qualifications:

  • In schools: National Senior Certificate.
  • In FET colleges: the National Technical Certificate (Level N3) and the National Certificate Vocational (NCV).
  • In adult learning centres: the General Education Training Certificate: Adults.

To issue learners with certificates that are credible, Umalusi:

  • develops and evaluates qualifications and curricula to ensure that they are of the expected standard
  • moderates assessment to ensure that it is fair, valid and reliable
  • accredits providers of education and training, and assessment
  • conducts research to ensure educational quality
  • verifies the authenticity of certificates.

National Education Evaluation and Development Unit

Needu ensures effective evaluation of all educators based on the extent to which learner performance improves.

Its core responsibilities include:

  • providing the Minister with an independent account of the state of schools, including the quality of teaching and learning in all schools;
  • providing an independent account on the development needs of the school education system;
  • accounting for the attainment of the standards by all schools through a monitoring and evaluation system;
  • identifying on a system-wide basis the critical factors that inhibit or advance school improvement and making focused recommendations for redressing problem areas that undermine school improvement;
  • proposing appropriate sanctions to ensure that schools offer effective education for all learners;
  • strengthening internal evaluation capacity within schools in ways that inform and complement external evaluation;
  • monitoring the different levels of school support and the extent action is considered on proposed interventions, whether in the form of developmental support or disciplined action;
  • reviewing and assessing existing monitoring, evaluation and support structures and instruments regularly, to ensure clarity and coherence in the way schools and teachers are assessed and supported;
  • providing schools with evidence-based advice on how to pursue school improvement in their particular context; and
  • promoting school improvement through the dissemination of good practice.

Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC)

The ELRC serves the public education sector nationally. It is a statutory council, initially established by the Education Labour Relations Act, 1993 (Act 146 of 1993), but draws authority from the Education Labour Relations Act, 1995 (Act 66 of 1995).

The main purpose of the council is to maintain labour peace within public education through processes of dispute prevention and resolution. These include collective bargaining between the educator unions and the DBE as the employer.

The ELRC also conducts various workshops to increase the level of awareness and understanding of sound labour-relations procedures.

South African Council for Educators

The SACE is a professional council aimed at enhancing the status of the teaching profession and promoting the development of educators and their professional conduct. It was established in terms of the SACE Act, 2000 (Act 31 of 2000).

The SACE’s functions are to:

  • register educators;
  • promote the professional development of educators; and
  • set, maintain and protect ethical and professional standards.

Before their employment, educators are required to register with the SACE, which has a register of about 500 000 educators. The council has strengthened entry requirements by checking applicants’ professional standing.

The SACE has a number of programmes that promote the development of educators and enhance the status and image of the teaching profession. These include:

  • the Professional Development Portfolio Project, which aims to encourage educators to reflect on their practice and take responsibility for their own professional development;
  • teacher education and development research activities;
  • setting up the Continuing Professional Teacher Development System;
  • celebrating World Teachers’ Day to acknowledge the work of educators;
  • ensuring that educators adhere to the SACE Code of Professional Ethics; and
  • the Continuing Professional Teacher-Development System, which recognises professional development undertaken by educators on their own initiative.

Educator unions

Educators are organised into six educator unions, namely:

  • the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa,
  • the National Teachers’ Union,
  • the South African Teachers’ Union,
  • the Professional Educators’ Union,
  • Cape Professional Teachers’ Association and
  • the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union.

A labour-relations framework was agreed on by the former Ministry of Education and the unions. This encompasses both traditional areas of negotiation, and issues of professional concern, including pedagogy and quality-improvement strategies.

An agreement was reached on the framework for the establishment of an occupation-specific dispensation (OSD) for educators in public education. The OSD provides for dual career paths, where educators and specialists in classrooms can progress to levels where they earn salaries that are equal to or higher than those of managers without moving into management/supervisory posts. It also provides for a new category of posts for teaching and learning specialists and senior learning and teaching specialists, as well as the creation of a cadre of education managers at school and office level.

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