Expat parents moving to South Africa have a wide range of high-quality options for educating their children. South African schools are either government-funded public schools or independent, privately run schools. In practice, some schools are semi-private, meaning that while they are ultimately accountable to the government, they are partially self-funded and are often able to offer better facilities and a higher standard of education than other government schools.

Although there are 11 official languages in South Africa, English is most commonly spoken in cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, and is therefore the teaching medium in the vast majority of schools. That is, however, where uniformity ends – schools in South Africa vary widely in terms of cost, quality and curriculum.

While most expats tend to send their children to a private or international school, the decision depends on a number of factors, such as location, cost, the availability of places and the intended length of the family’s stay in South Africa. 

Public schools in South Africa rely on the government for funding and supplies. Each province is responsible for its schools and, as such, standards vary immensely depending on the efficiency and wealth of the province.

Most public schools in South Africa suffer as a result of poor funding, lack of government monitoring and a lack of suitably qualified teachers. Because of such shortcomings, parents who can afford to, opt to send their  children to private schools. 

Private education is much more expensive than public education, but standards are exceptional. These schools are attended mostly by children from middle- and high-income families.  Depending on their location in South Africa, expats will be spoilt for choice in terms of private schooling options.

Many private schools have religious origins and aim to provide pupils with a spiritual foundation to complement their academic offerings. Others subscribe to a particular learning philosophy, such as Waldorf or Montessori.

Similar to other countries, private schools generally have better facilities, smaller classes and a larger selection of extra-curricular activities. This is also true of international schools in South Africa.

There are a number of international schools in South Africa that offer a variety of globally recognised curricula, such as that of the UK, the US or the International Baccalaureate.

Many expats, especially those who are only relocating to South Africa for a short period of time, opt to send their children to an international school because this allows for a smoother transition as the student will continue following a familiar curriculum from their home country.  International schools are also a great way to connect with fellow expat families.

There are two major downsides to international schooling. Firstly, fees can be exorbitant and, secondly, it can often be difficult to secure a place in some of the more popular schools. For the best chance at being admitted, parents should start the application process as early as possible. To mitigate costs, those moving to South Africa for work should try asking for provision for school fees as part of their relocation package.