The 1996 South African Constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must progressively make available and accessible.
Until such time, education comes with a fee. The state schools are subsidised by the government, but the students fill in the gap between bare necessities and decent education. The state school-funding norms are primarily geared towards redressing inherited inequalities between poor, mostly black, areas and the affluent ones.
Primary schools span the first seven years of schooling, and high schools the next five years. Of that, ten years are considered as compulsory. Many primary schools also offer a preparatory grade, which is not compulsory.
The tertiary education provides the highest level of education and entry is after the completion of Grade 12. Most universities and training colleges are subsidised by the state.
There are also many private educational institutions on all levels of education.
- South Africa has 12.3 million learners, 386,600 teachers and 26,292 schools, including 1,098 registered independent or private schools.
- For the period 2002-2005, public expenditure on education in South Africa was 5.4 percent of GDP. (Source: Human Development Reports)
- In 2008/2009, the budget earmarked for education totalled R122,8 billion. (Source: SA Government Information)
- The state non-personnel school funding is progressive: 60 percent goes to the poorest 40 percent of learners; the poorest 20 percent of learners receive 35 percent of resources; and the richest 20 percent receive 5 percent.
- The January 2006 Education Bill provided the legal foundation for introducing no-fee schools in 2007. By September 2008, 58 percent of public ordinary schools were declared no-fee schools, benefiting more than five million learners in 14,264 schools.
- There are 50 multisite-campus further education and training colleges in South Africa, established by merging previously existing 152 technical colleges.
South Africa has 23 universities.
- It is estimated that 6 to 8 million South Africans over the age of 15 are not functionally literate, putting the illiteracy rate in the country at about 24 percent.
- 2008 marked the launch of the Kha Ri Gude (Let us Learn) mass literacy campaign. The government intends to spend R6.1-billion over five years, hoping to enable 4.7 million South Africans to achieve literacy by 2012.