The context: The education system in South Africa


The South African education system has transformed drastically over the years, especially in the 1990s which saw the abolition of the apartheid system and its separate education for each of the different population groups. 

One of the most significant challenges facing the South African educational structure is the ongoing quest for the improvement in the quality of education. Over the years, a wide range of policies have been put in place in pursuit of this goal and considerable advances have been made. However, the country has not yet seen significant improvements in learning, which is evident in the low levels of learner achievement.

One of the effects of the Bantu education policies of the pre-democratic era in South Africa is a teaching corps, particularly that serving rural and disadvantaged communities, that was not exposed to the best practise in teacher training. Furthermore, this teaching corps has been expected to implement the many curriculum changes that have formed part of the government’s education reforms, from the Outcomes Based Education (OBE) curriculum of 1997 to the National Curriculum Statement and its revised version, culminating most recently in the publication in 2011 of the new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) which lay down the curriculum for all subjects and how to teach them for Grades R to 12. 

Structure of the school system

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is responsible for schooling, from the Foundation Phase which includes pre-schooling Grade 000 to Grade 0, commonly known as Grade R. Schooling is divided into two stages: the General Education and Training (GET) stage which includes Grades R to 9 and the Further Education and Training (FET) stage which includes Grades 10 to 12. The GET stage is then subdivided into three phases: the Foundation Phase (Grades R to 3), the Intermediate Phase (Grades 4 to 6) and the Senior Phase (Grades 7 to 9).

The DBE shares a concurrent role with the provincial departments for basic schooling, however it is the responsibility of each provincial department to finance and manage its schools directly. Schooling in South Africa is compulsory for learners aged 7 to 16 years.

The Department Higher Education and Training (DHET) is responsible for post-school education and training in universities, colleges and adult education centres. The National Development Plan (NDP) envisages that by 2030, all South Africans should have access to a post-school education system that empowers them to fulfil their potential and contribute as active citizens to the social and economic well-being of the country.

Teacher training in South Africa

Before the advent of democracy in South Africa, teacher training was also subject to the inequities of the apartheid system. Unlike their white counterparts, students in the black education sector were able to qualify as teachers with Standard 8 school leaving certificates. This situation explains the finding of the National Teacher Education Audit carried out in 1995 that many teachers (36%) were underqualified or unqualified, giving rise to a demand for in-service teacher education upgrading programmes. In-service or continuing professional development (CPD) of the etching body is one of the main tools the DBE, with the assistance of teacher unions and other sectors, is using to improve the quality of education.  

Major changes to the teacher education system were introduced in 1994. Instead of the 102 public teacher training colleges, 20 universities and 15 technikons that had been offering teacher qualifications, the responsibility for initial teacher education was shifted to 23 Higher Education institutions, with the colleges being merged with the universities or closed down.

Currently, students wishing to enter the teaching profession can do so via a four-year Bachelor of Education degree (B.Ed.) or a three-or four-year Bachelor’s degree, followed by a one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). All teachers are required to register with the South African Council for Educators (SACE).

Teacher Unions

SADTU is the biggest teacher union in South Africa and along with the other unions is a vital stakeholder in education. Not only are the unions the voice of educators - they play an essential role in teacher development and have contributed to the discussion around the professionalisation of teachers.

Work with us

Get in touch with the SCNPDI to partner with us and help grow teachers and improve teacher professionalisation. At SCNPDI, we’re committed to the facilitation of economic growth and development.

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