Education in South Africa: a brief history

Education in South Africa: a brief history

education in south africa

South Africa is among the countries with the highest rate of public investment in education. The education system in South Africa comprises three basic levels: primary school, secondary school and university. Primary school encompasses 1st to 7th grade, for children aged five to 12 years old. Some areas also may provide one year of pre-school. High school is for children in 8th to 12th grade. In South Africa, education is compulsory for those aged between seven and 15 years. After 15, students can specialize in a certain field by choosing to continue their education in technical, community or private colleges.

Students in South Africa are allowed into universities after getting their matriculation endorsement. However, some universities require an additional set of exams. Higher education and training includes education for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, certificates and diplomas as well as doctors’ degrees. The country has 24 government-financed tertiary institutions.

South Africa’s universities are autonomous bodies that report to their own councils. Schools, in turn, are financed by the state, except for private schools which are funded with parents’ fees. Education in the country is managed by two bodies: the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Training. Each province has its own educational department.

The Ministry of Basic Education is responsible not only for primary and secondary education but also for adult basic education and training. The Ministry of Higher Education and Training oversees tertiary education as well as technical and vocational training.

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Education in South Africa dates back to the middle of the 17th century, when the first European school opened in Cape Colony. The second school was inaugurated in 1663 with the aim to teach children of colonists. Itinerant teachers taught basic math and literacy skills as part of a mission of the Dutch Reformed Church. Later, the church recommended that slaves and colonists should study at separate schools. At the end of the century school attendance became compulsory for all slave children under 12 years.

Regulations on school organization in South Africa were first introduced in 1714. After 1799, British mission schools were set up with the aim to teach in rural areas. The School Ordinance, which took over control of public education from the church, was established in 1804. After Britain took control of the Cape Colony in 1815, English Free Schools were set up. These schools, initially intended for the poor, were free of charge. and teaching in them was exclusively in English. In 1859, women were allowed to teach for the first time. Between 1860 and the end of the 19th century many schools were established in the country, and new regulations were introduced and basic and higher education were organized as separate institutions.

Higher education had been available only for those able to travel to universities Europe. However, in 1829 the government set up the South African College, later to become the University of Cape Town. Higher education institutions were also established in Transvaal in 1852 and in the Orange Free State in 1854.

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In 1953, the Bantu Education Act proclaimed that black Africans were allowed to study only to a certain level. Two of the act’s authors, Dr. W.M. Eiselen and Dr. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, had studied in Germany during the Nazi era. The South African government almost froze the financing for religious schools, which forced many of them to close or be sold off to the state. Government spending on education for black people fell dramatically. In 1976, students took to the streets of Soweto in protest. The police opened fire on the demonstration, causing the death of more than 575 people. During the rioting, many schools were destroyed.

Legislation introduced in 1984, which still ignored black education, triggered another wave of disruption and violence. Two years later, President P. W. Botha encouraged negotiations between the government and Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress. As a result, the government increased spending on education for different racial groups. After years of discussions and consultation the government announced its intention to restructure education in the country, a process which was finalized in January 2005.

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