Pre-colonial & Colonial South Africa

“In pre-colonial South Africa, education was part of daily life.  Children learned about their societies and their work from older community members. They learned by experience, from doing tasks and this informal education didn’t stop, like schools do, when children reached a certain age.  There were initiation ceremonies and rituals which were part of people’s education.  People also learned about their history and past traditions through the songs, poems and stories that were passed on orally.” Christie, 1991

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  • 1st School in South Africa

    The opening moment of formal education in South Africa coincides with the foundation of the colonial experience at the Cape in 1652. Six years after the Dutch East India Company established its colony at the Cape, the first formal school is begun in 1658. This school was founded by Commander..Read More

  • Scholarchs

    Scholarchs

    The Scholarchs (Committee to oversee education) is established. 3 church ministers and 1 civil servant make up the committee and control education in the Colony.  The duties of teachers are spelled out and regulations regarding school organization are laid down. These measures represent the first steps towards formalising education in..Read More

  • Missionary Education

    Missionary Education

    Significant steps were taken by the rapidly growing missionary movement to provide education for both black and white children. This story began with the arrival of the London Missionary Society in 1799 and took shape in the work of people like Dr Phillip and the subsequent establishment of important institutions..

  • The School Ordinance

    The School Ordinance

    The School Ordinance is passed. This is a milestone in the history of education because it withdrew the control of public education from the church and introduced the idea that the organisation of public schooling is a responsibility of the state.\ Source

  • Free Schools

    Government Free Schools (also known as English Free Schools) are established throughout the Cape Colony. A school is established at Wynberg and is the forerunner of the Wynberg Boys’ Schools. Based on Lancaster’s monitorial system, the schools are mostly aimed at the poor. Instruction is exclusively in English and at..Read More

  • 1st Education Department

    In 1839 an Education Department was established at the Cape with a superintendent, James Rose Innes, at its head. This position was bureaucratised with an administrative apparatus by the end of this century.

  • Education Act No.14

    Education Act No.14

    Education Act No. 14 is passed. It provides for the creation of Educational Boards in villages and towns.  This means that more schools can be established, but the funding of these remains a problem.

  • Education Act No.13

    Education Act No.13

    Education Act No. 13 is passed. The Act formalizes the system of state subsidies for private schools. State funding is divided into three school categories: public, mission and ‘native’. A mere 2 827 African students are enrolled in schools.

  • Fixed standards of attainment

    Fixed standards of attainment

    The first district boarding schools are established to accommodate children who lived too far from the nearest public school. The first of these was Blaauwvallei near Wellington.  A scheme of fixed standards of attainment up to Std 4 is drawn up to ensure that pupils would learn more than just..Read More

  • The Council of Education

    The Council of Education

    The Council of Education is established. A number of wars of dispossession fought on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony end. More mission stations and mission schools open because of the ceasefire.  Source

  • Proclamation No. 113 of 1882

    Marianhill Mission station and catholic school opens.  Proclamation No. 113 of 1882 promises grants for the erection of school buildings and the state will contribute on a pound-for-pound basis. Furniture, books and stationery will also be supplied on a pound-for-pound basis. However, the depression reduces the amount of government money..Read More


In 1910, South Africa achieved its independence from Britain on May 31.

Post-colonial

1910
1910

Provincial Independence

The Union government, set up in 1910, allowed the different provinces to have control over their primary and secondary education.  However, African education fell under the control of the Minister of Native Affairs. (Christie, 1991)

1922
1922

African education funding pegged

New laws were passed concerning the funding of African education. Any expansion would have to be financed out of taxation paid by Africans themselves.  I’m effect this meant that there was a continual shortage of money for African schooling (Christie, 1991).

1949
1949

Eiselen Commission

In 1949 the government appointed the Eiselen Commission with the task of considering African education provision. The Commission recommended ‘resorting to radical measures’ for the ‘effective reform of the Bantu school system’. Source

1953
1953

Bantu Education Act

  Bantu Education Act, South African law, enacted in 1953 and in effect from January 1, 1954, that governed the education of Black South African (called Bantu by the country’s government) children. It was part of the government’s system of apartheid, which sanctioned racial segregation and discrimination against nonwhites in..Read More

1954
1954

The African Education Movement

In 1954—5 black teachers and students protested against Bantu Education. The African Education Movement was formed to provide alternative education. For a few years, cultural clubs operated as informal schools, but by 1960 they had closed down. Source

1959
1959

University Education Act (Ext.)

University Education Act (Ext.)

The Extension of University Education Act establishes separate ‘tribal colleges’ for black university students. Blacks can no longer freely attend white universities. Again, there are strong protests. The university structure of South Africa is altered. The enrolment at the University of Fort Hare is 319 Africans, 70 Coloureds, and 100..Read More

1960
1960

Education for African labor force

Expenditure on Bantu Education increased from the late 1960s, once the apartheid Nationalist government saw the need for a trained African labour force. Through this, more African children attended school than under the old missionary system of education, albeit grossly deprived of facilities in comparison with the education of other..Read More

1963
1963

The Coloured Person’s Education Act

The Coloured Person’s Education Act of 1963 put control of ‘coloured’ education under the Department of Coloured Affairs. ‘Coloured’ schools also had to be registered with the government. ‘Coloured’ education was made compulsory, but was now effectively separated from white schooling. Source

1965
1965

The 1965 Indian Education Act

The 1965 Indian Education Act was passed to separate and control Indian education, which was placed under the Department of Indian Affairs. In 1976, the SAIC took over certain educational functions. Indian education was also made compulsory. Source

1967
1967

National Education Policy Act

National Education Policy Act

The National Education Policy Act is introduced. The Act outlines the principles of Christian National Education (CNE) in white schools. CNE adheres to the creeds of the Dutch Reformed Church and is fundamentalist and anti-evolutionist. A major promoter of CNE, Dr. Chris Coetzee, says on CNE says that there is..Read More

1976
1976

June 16 1976 Uprising

The June 16 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. The rise of..Read More

1979
1979

The Education and Training Act

The Education and Training Act is passed. It replaces the much-reviled Bantu Education Act of 1953. African education is now under the Department of Education and Training (DET). Source

1980
1980

De Lange Commission

Cape town coloured and black schools initiate boycotts of classes. They are joined by students in Durban. The De Lange Commission is instituted to conduct an in-depth investigation into education and to make recommendations for an education policy for South Africa. Source

1984
1984

National Policy for General Education Affairs Act

The National Policy for General Education Affairs Act is passed. This brings education structures into line with the new constitution of 1983. A ‘general affairs’ Department of Education is established to oversee education budgets, teachers’ salaries and registration, and curricula. Parallel to this Department, ‘own affairs’ Departments of Education and..Read More

1986
1986

The National Education Crisis Committee (NECC)

The National Education Crisis Committee (NECC)

The National Education Crisis Committee (NECC) is formed at a national conference held in Durban. Late in 1984 and throughout 1985 an unprecedented wave of militant student action in black schools once again caused a crisis in black education. In 1985 concerned parents formed the Soweto Parents’ Crisis Committee (SPCC)…Read More

Education reform in the Republic of South Africa (Post-apartheid)

Post-apartheid

1994
1994

First single and democratic Department of Education

First single and democratic Department of Education

May, President Nelson Mandela appoints Prof. Sibusiso Bhengu as South Africa’s first black Minister of Education in a single, non-racial national Department of Education.   Source Image source

1995
1995

Whitepaper on Education and Training

This document is the first policy document on education and training by South Africa’s first democratically elected government.

1995

Education White Paper 2: The organisation, governance and funding of schools

The organisation, governance and funding of schools. The white paper Education and Training in a Democratic South Africa: First Steps to Develop a New System, approved by Cabinet in February 1995, devoted a chapter to this issue. Source

1996
1996

The National Education Policy Act (NEPA) & The South African Schools Act (SASA)

The National Education Policy Act (NEPA) (1996), designed to inscribe in law the policy, legislative and monitoring responsibilities of the Minister of Education and to formalise the relations between national and provincial authorities. It established the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) and Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM) as inter-governmental..Read More

1997
1997

Higher Education Act

The Department of Education establishes a higher education division and publishes Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education.  19 December, Higher Education Act is signed into law by President Mandela. The Act ends centuries of racism in higher education.  Source The Higher Education Act 101..Higher Education Act 101 of 1997

1997

Education White Paper 3: Programme for the transformation of Higher Education

The White Paper outlines the framework for change, that is, the higher education system must be planned, governed and funded as a single national co-ordinated system. This will enable us to overcome the fragmentation, inequality and inefficiency which are the legacy of the past, and create a learning society which..(Source)

1998
1998

Education White Paper 4: Programme for the Transformation of Further Education and Training

Education White Paper 4: Programme for the Transformation of Further Education and Training

The Further Education and Training Act (1998), Education White Paper 4 on Further Education and Training (1998) and the National Strategy for Further Education and Training (1999-2001), which provides the basis for developing a nationally co-ordinated further education and training system, comprising of the senior secondary component of schooling and..(Source)

1998

Curriculum 2005

 Curriculum 2005 (C2005) with its implementation in 1998 was regarded as the master plan to eradicate the inequalities of the apartheid education system. In 2000, C2005 was revised and is now referred to as the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) (Jansen, 1998; Manganyi, 2001; Harley & Wedekind 2004; Vambe, 2005). Source

2000
2000

The Adult Basic Education and Training Act

The Adult Basic Education and Training Act

The Adult Basic Education and Training Act (2000), which provides for the establishment of public and private adult learning centres, funding for ABET provisioning, the governance of public centres, and quality assurance mechanisms for the sector. Source Image Source

2000

Revised National Curriculum Statement (R-9)

Revised National Curriculum Statement (R-9)

At its special meeting of 12 September 1997, the Heads of Education Departments Committee recommended the Draft Statement of the National  Curriculum for Grades R-9 for Ministerial approval. It was referred to and approved by the Council of Education Ministers at its meeting of 29 September 1997 as three separate..Read More

2001
2001

Education White Paper 5 on Early Childhood Education: Meeting the challenge of Early Childhood Development in South Africa

The main ECD policy priority addressed in this White Paper is the establishment of a national system of provision of the Reception Year for children aged 5 years that combines a large public and smaller independent component. In this regard, the medium-term goal (2010) is for all children entering Grade..(Source)

2001

White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education

The Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education (2001) describes the DBE’s intention to implement inclusive education at all levels in the system by 2020. The system will facilitate the inclusion of vulnerable learners and reduce the barriers to learning through targeted support structures and mechanisms that will improve the..Read More

2004
2004

White Paper 7 on e-Education

White Paper 7 on e-Education

Transforming Learning and Teaching through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

2007
2007

Education Laws Amendment Act

SASA of 1996 was amended by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2005 (Act 24 of 2005), which authorises the declaration of schools in poverty-stricken areas as “no-fee schools”, and by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2007 (Act 31 of 2007), which provides for the functions and responsibilities of school principals…Read More

2014
2014

Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS)

CAPS is a single, comprehensive and concise policy document, which replaces the Subject and Learning Area Statements, Learning Programme Guidelines and Subject Assessment Guidelines for all the subjects listed in the NCS grades R to 12. It comprises the following: • CAPS for all approved subjects • National policy pertaining..Read More

Thank you for taking the time to view this timeline. I’ve tried my best to source the most important events that contributed to the development of education in current day South Africa. So, if you feel that I’ve left something out, feel free to let me know. Your opinion and input mean a lot.



Primary references

Christie, P.1 986. The Right to Learn – The Struggle for People’s Education in South Africa.

The History of Education: 1658 to present. https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-education-1658-present

https://www.education.gov.z
a/

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