History of Education in South Africa

1806 to 1900
The earliest European schools in South Africa were established in the Cape Colony in the late seventeenth century by Dutch Reformed Church elders committed to biblical instruction, which was necessary for church confirmation. In rural areas, itinerant teachers (meesters) taught basic literacy and math skills. British mission schools proliferated after 1799, when the first members of the London Missionary Society arrived in the Cape Colony.

Language soon became a sensitive issue in education. At least two dozen English-language schools operated in rural areas of the Cape Colony by 1827, but their presence rankled among devout Afrikaners, who considered the English language and curriculum irrelevant to rural life and Afrikaner values. Throughout the nineteenth century, Afrikaners resisted government policies aimed at the spread of the English language and British values, and many educated their children at home or in the churches.

After British colonial officials began encouraging families to emigrate from Britain to the Cape Colony in 1820, the Colonial Office screened applicants for immigration for background qualifications. They selected educated families, for the most part, to establish a British presence in the Cape Colony. After their arrival, these parents placed a high priority on education. Throughout this time, most religious schools in the eastern Cape accepted Xhosa children who applied for admission; in Natal many other Nguni-speaking groups sent their children to mission schools after the mid-nineteenth century. The government also financed teacher training classes for Africans as part of its pacification campaign throughout the nineteenth century.

By 1877 some 60 percent of white school-age children in Natal were enrolled in school, as were 49 percent in the Cape Colony. After the Boer War (ended 1902) in the former Afrikaner republics, however, enrolments remained low--only 12 percent in the Orange Free State and 8 percent in the Transvaal--primarily the result of Afrikaner resistance to British education. Enrolments in these republics increased after the government of the Union agreed to the use of Afrikaans in the schools and to allow Afrikaner parents greater control over primary and secondary education.

By the late nineteenth century, three types of schools were receiving government assistance--ward schools, or small rural schools generally employing one teacher; district schools, providing primary-level education to several towns in an area; and a few secondary schools in larger cities. But during the last decades of that century, all four provinces virtually abolished African enrolment in government schools. African children attended mission schools, for the most part, and were taught by clergy or by lay teachers, sometimes with government assistance.
Higher education was generally reserved for those who could travel to Europe, but in 1829 the government established the multiracial South African College, which later became the University of Cape Town. Religious seminaries accepted a few African applicants as early as 1841. In 1852 the independent state of Transvaal and in 1854 the Orange Free State established their own institutions of higher learning in Dutch. The government established Grey College--later the University of the Orange Free State--in Bloemfontein in 1855 and placed it under the supervision of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Grey Institute was established in Port Elizabeth in 1856; Graaff-Reinet College was founded in 1860. The Christian College was founded at Potchefstroom in 1869 and was later incorporated into the University of South Africa and renamed Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.

1900 to 1948
Following the British victory in the South African War, the British High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Sir Alfred Milner, brought thousands of teachers from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to instil the English language and British cultural values, especially in the two former Afrikaner republics. To counter the British influence, a group of Afrikaner churches proposed an education program, Christian National Education, to serve as the core of the school curriculum. The government initially refused to fund schools adopting this program, but Jan C. Smuts, the Transvaal leader who later became prime minister, was strongly committed to reconciliation between Afrikaners and English speakers; he favoured local control over many aspects of education. Provincial autonomy in education was strengthened in the early twentieth century, and all four provincial governments used government funds primarily to educate whites.

The National Party (NP) was able to capitalise on the fear of racial integration in the schools to build its support. The NP's narrow election victory in 1948 gave Afrikaans new standing in the schools and, after that, all high-school graduates were required to be proficient in Afrikaans and English. The NP government also reintroduced Christian National Education as the guiding philosophy of education.

1948 to 1974
Before 1953, many black people attended schools set up by religions organisations. These schools provided schooling of the same quality that white children received in state schools. Following the Bantu Education Act (No. 47) of 1953 the government tightened its control over religious high schools by eliminating almost all financial aid, forcing many churches to sell their schools to the government or close them entirely.

The South African government implemented an education system called Christian National Education (CNE). The basis of this system is that a person's social responsibilities and political opportunities are defined by that person's ethnic identity.

Although CNE advanced principles of racial inferiority, it promoted teaching of cultural diversity and enforced mother-tongue instruction in the first years of primary school. The government gave strong management control to the school boards, who were elected by the parents in each district.

In 1959, the Extension of University Education Act prohibited established universities from accepting most black students, although the government did create universities for black, coloured, and Indian students.

The number of schools for blacks increased during the 1960s, but their curriculum was designed to prepare children for menial jobs. Per capita government spending on black education slipped to one-tenth of spending on whites in the 1970s. Black schools had inferior facilities, teachers, and textbooks.

1974 to 1983
In 1974, the Minister of Bantu Education and Development issued a decree commonly known as the "Afrikaans medium decree" in which the use of both English and Afrikaans was made compulsory in black secondary schools. In this decree, physical science and practical subjects would be taught in English, mathematics and social science subjects would be taught in Afrikaans, and music and cultural subjects would be taught in the learner's native language. The Minister said that the reason for this decree was to ensure that black people can communicate effectively with English and Afrikaans speaking white people.

This decree was unpopular with learners and teachers alike, particularly in towns like the Johannesburg township of Soweto, where practically no-one spoke Afrikaans. Tensions over language in education erupted into violence on 16 June 1976, when students took to the streets in Soweto and eventually in other towns and cities in the country. The schools suffered further damage as vandals damaged or destroyed school property. Students who tried to attend school and their teachers were attacked, and school staff found it increasingly difficult to maintain normal school activities.

1984 to 1990
The National Policy for General Affairs Act (No. 76) of 1984 provided some improvements in black education but maintained the overall separation called for by the Bantu education system.

The Department of Education and Training was responsible for black education outside the homelands. Each of the three houses of parliament--for whites, coloureds, and Indians--had an education department for one racial group. Each of the ten homelands had its own education department. In addition, several other government departments managed specific aspects of education.

Education was compulsory for all racial groups, but at different ages, and the law was enforced differently. Whites were required to attend school between the ages of seven and sixteen. Black children were required to attend school from age seven until the equivalent of seventh grade or the age of sixteen. This law was enforced only weakly and not at all in areas where schools were unavailable. For Asians and coloured children, education was compulsory between the ages of seven and fifteen.

Teacher-pupil ratios in primary schools averaged 1:18 in white schools, 1:24 in Asian schools, 1:27 in coloured schools, and 1:39 in black schools. Moreover, whereas 96 percent of all teachers in white schools had teaching certificates, only 15 percent of teachers in black schools were certified. Secondary-school pass rates for black pupils in the nationwide, standardised high-school graduation exams were less than one-half the pass rate for whites.

1990 to 1993
The white education system was restructured, in anticipation of democracy, by the apartheid government. From the beginning of 1991, white schools were required to select one of four "Models": A, B, C, or D. "Model C" was a semi-private structure, with decreased funding from the state, and greatly increased autonomy for schools. Although most white schools opted for the status quo, by 1993, due to government policy, 96% of white public schools became "Model C" schools.

Although the form of "Model C" was abolished by the post-apartheid government, the term is still commonly used to describe former whites-only government schools, as of 2013.

1994 to 1997
Under Apartheid South Africa, there were eight education departments that followed different curricula and offered different standards of learning quality. This included nationwide departments for coloured people, for Indians and for black people, a department for independent schools, and provincial departments for white people in each of the former four provinces. Some of the Bantustans that were incorporated back into South Africa in 1994 also had their own education departments.

In terms of the Interim Constitution, the Mandela government restructured these departments as well as tertiary education departments, splitting responsibilities between nine newly formed provincial education departments and a single national education department. It also set about reforming the educational system by first removing all racially offensive and outdated content and then introducing continuous assessment into schools.

The South African Schools Act, 1996 was promulgated to "provide for a uniform system for the organisation, governance and funding of schools".

1997 to 2005
In 1997 the government launched its new education system called Curriculum 2005, which would be based on "outcomes based education" (OBE). By 2006 it was clear that OBE as a social experiment had failed, and it was quietly shelved

2006 until now - use of English
South Africa has 11 official languages and the first year of schooling is provided in all these home languages.

Before 2009, schools serving non-English speakers had to teach English as a subject only from grade 3 and all subjects were taught in English from grade 4 (except in Afrikaans language schools). Since 2009, all schools teach English as a subject from grade 1 and all subjects are taught in English from grade 4. Afrikaans language schools are an exception, in that all subjects (other than other languages) are taught in Afrikaans.