Click on Back to School 2022! if you are facing challenges in school enrollment!

There are a number of preconditions required for schools to be reopened safely in the COVID-19 disaster period. Section 27 has put together a simple guide for learners, caregivers, educators and school staff to understand what is needed in terms of the protocols for health, safety, hygiene and social distancing during this period. This was last updated on 23 February 2021 and you can read it here.

Directions Regarding the Reopening of Schools and Measures to Address, Prevent and Combat the Spread of Covid-19 (Feb 2021) available here.

How does the Education system in South Africa work? ⬇

The responsibility for education in South Africa is shared by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

The DBE is responsible for schooling, from the Foundation Phase which includes pre-schooling Grade 000 to Grade 0, commonly known as Grade R. Schooling is divided into two stages:

  • the General Education and Training (GET) stage which includes Grades R to 9
  • the Further Education and Training (FET) stage which includes Grades 10 to 12

The DBE shares a concurrent role with the Provincial Departments for basic schooling, however it is the responsibility of each provincial department to finance and manage its schools directly. Schooling in South Africa is compulsory for learners aged 7 to 16 years.

The DHET is responsible for post-school education and training in universities, colleges and adult education centres.

Primary Education

The first 6 years of the educational system are spent in primary school where literacy and numeracy are established.

Middle Education

The following 3 years are spent in middle school. Subjects taught continue to be academic and some vocational training. Completion brings with it a basic education and training certificate.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is administered through a network of government schools and private colleges.

Vocational Education

Vocational training is administered by sector education and training authorities arranged across functional lines. Training itself is provided mainly by commercial colleges functioning partly under government subsidies.

Tertiary Education

Tertiary education and training are provided through a large number of private and state-managed institutions under the overall control of the ministry of higher education and training.

Can you get Basic Education in South Africa? ⬇

All persons in South Africa have the right to basic education – regardless of their documentation status.  This right is in South Africa’s Bill of Rights and has been affirmed by the South African courts. Children must be admitted to schools – regardless of documentation type.

‘Basic education’ includes Grade 1 to Grade 9.

Both refugees (section 24) and asylum seekers (section 22) are entitled to ‘seek and receive’ basic education or adult basic education in South Africa.

Official Amended 2021 School Calendar available here.

For information regarding adult basic education and training click here.

How can you enroll your child in school? ⬇

You are free to choose whether to register your child at a public school or at an independent school. Public schools are state controlled and independent schools are privately governed. Independent schools must be registered with the Provincial Education Department. Public schools must be established by the MEC for education in the province.

You can check with the Provincial Education Department if the school you wish to enroll your child in is registered before you make any registrations and payments.

Parents and guardians are advised to contact the school where they want to enrol their child as early as February in the preceding year to enquire about the application and admission process.

Note: No school may treat your child unfairly and no public school may require your child to write an admission test, or prevent your child from coming to school because you have not paid or cannot pay the school fees.

How is the Registration procedure? ⬇

Consult your Provincial Education Department Office or the school you choose to find out the procedures to apply and register to a school, as each Province follows their own procedures for school enrolment.

To register the following documents are compulsory:

  • Application form from the school
  • Official birth certificate
  • Immunisation card
  • If you are moving your child from one school to another, submit latest school report, and a transfer card.

If your child is not a South African citizen, include the asylum seeker or refugee permit.

Source and more information on the Department of Education website here.

Can an undocumented person access education? ⬇

According to the South African Constitution and court decisions, nobody can be excluded from education, even if you are an undocumented non-national.

For more information, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has a very comprehensive publication on Access to Education for Undocumented Learners in South African Public Schools.

How do school fees in South African Public school work? ⬇

Access to basic education is an immediately realisable right and cannot be dependent on government resources. Education must be accessible and affordable for everyone.

Funding of schools is determined through a quintile system. There are a total of 5 quintiles. Quintile 1 schools are located in poorer areas and quantile 5 schools are in wealthier areas.

Quintile 1-3 Quintile 1-3 schools are no-fee schools and are fully subsidised by the Department of Education.


Quintile 4-5  

Quintiles 4-5 are fee paying schools and they are only partially subsidised by the Department of Education.

What if you can't afford school fees? ⬇

Parents whose children are registered at quintile 4-5 schools or wish to register their children there but cannot afford to pay school fees can apply for a school fee exemption.

School fees vary from school to school. If you cannot afford to pay you must make arrangements with the school. Although a school cannot refuse a learner admission, they can take legal action against you for failure to pay any outstanding school fees.

A parent who cannot afford school fees can make an application for school fee exemption. There are three types of exemptions:

Automatic Exemption Automatic exemption is given to a guardian of a child in – foster care, an orphanage, a youth care centre or a place of safety. Similarly, automatic exemption is given to a parent who receives a social grant on behalf of the child (e.g. child support grant) or a person who takes care of a child who has been abandoned and

has no means of support. Children in child-headed households are also entitled to automatic exemption.

Partial Exemption Partial exemption is a discount on school fees and is determined by the income of the parents. The Schools Act Regulations provide a formula for how this discount is determined.
Conditional Exemption A conditional exemption will be granted to a parent who at the time of application did not qualify for exemption but within the course of the year provides information that they cannot afford the school fees, for example if they become unemployed, they might qualify for conditional exemption.

How do you apply for school fee exemption? ⬇

According to the Schools Act and the Regulations relating to the Exemption of Parents from the Payment of School Fees, school principals are required to inform parents of school fee exemptions and assist parents who want to apply. Look for a notice in the school news letter or outside the school office. If you can’t find any notices, ask the school administrator about the school fee exemption process. This is meant to happen within the first two weeks of the school year.

For more information, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has a very comprehensive publication on School Fees Exemptions & School Fees Debt Collection.

How can you get help? ⬇

If you need help with School matters, contact one of the below organisations:

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) [email protected]

List of Contact details for all offices here.

Nelson Mandela University

Refugee Rights Centre

Cape Town

Tel: +27 (0) 41 504 1111

Fax: +27 (0) 41 504 2574 / 2731

Email: [email protected]

Facebook page for updates:

University of Cape Town

Refugee Rights Unit

Cape Town

Kramer Law School Building
Middle Campus
1 Stanley Road
University of Cape Town
Cape Town
South Africa

Tel: (27) 21 650 5581
Fax: (27) 21 650 4107
Email: [email protected]

Children’s Clinic: (27) 63 656 5080
Status Determination Clinic: (27) 72 499 8146

Section 27 catalysts for justice Johannesburg

011 356 4100

First Floor, South Point Corner Building
87 De Korte Street
Johannesburg 2017

[email protected]

Equal Education Western Cape

Telephone: 021 361 0127

Whatsapp:  021 361 0127

[email protected]


Eastern Cape

Telephone: 043 642 1616

[email protected]



Telephone: 081 510 2384

Equal Education Law Centre Cape Town

3rd Floor, Isivivana Centre, 8 Mzala Street, Khayelitsha, 7784

Telephone: +27 21 461 1421 / 0800 110 752 (Tollfree)

[email protected]

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Johannesburg

Telephone: 011 6149380

JRS, Hunter St, Yeoville, Johannesburg, 2198


Follow the link for the full contact details of each Provincial Education Department.

How can you get further education? ⬇

As a recognised refugee (section 24), you are entitled to access the same education which nationals of the Republic of South Africa, and is therefore able to get further education.

If you are an asylum seeker (section 22) and want to study beyond basic education (Grade 10 onwards), you must fill out Form 7 in the Annexure of the Refugees Regulations. You can get this form at the Refugee Reception Office. This form must be signed by the appropriate person at the educational institution you wish to study at and you must then submit this form to the Refugee Reception Office.

After submitting Form 7 to the Refugee Reception Office, the Standing Committee will determine the period and conditions under which you may study while awaiting the outcome of your application for asylum.

Click here to be directed to the complete list of Universities in South Africa.

Can you get Technical and Vocational Education and Training? ⬇

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) courses are vocational or occupational by nature meaning that the student receives education and training with a view towards a specific range of jobs, employment or entrepreneurial possibilities.  Under certain conditions, some students may qualify for admission to a University of Technology to continue their studies at a higher level in the same field of study as they were studying at the TVET College.

There are 50 registered and accredited public TVET Colleges in South Africa which operate on approximately 364 campuses spread across the rural and urban areas of the country.

Click here to be directed to the government of South Africa’s dedicated TVET website where it provides an overview of the programme and contact details.

Click here to search TVET colleges by province.

What is Community Education and Training? ⬇

The 2013 White Paper for Post-School Education and Training provides for the establishment of community education and training colleges that targets post-school youth and adults who wish to raise the base for further learning, improve their skills for employability and/or progression to opportunities in the TVET colleges and university education.

Nine community colleges, one in each province, have been established and include the incorporation of 3,279 adult education and training centres. These colleges are a new type of institution catering initially mainly for those who do not qualify for admission to TVET colleges or universities. Government has committed to increase youth and adult involvement in the community education and training to one million by 2030.

These colleges will target post-school youth and adults who wish to raise the base for further learning, improve their skills for employability and/or progression to opportunities in the TVET colleges and university education.

In essence, community education and training will offer programmes that contribute to improving community cohesion and social capital, and responsive to the geographic and sectoral needs and challenges.

There is a policy from the provision of formal literacy and numeracy to a diversified programme mix which includes formal qualification, occupational qualifications and part qualifications and skills through the establishment of networks and partnerships with community based organisations (CBOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as faith-based organizations (FBOs).

Click here to be directed to the government of South Africa’s Community Education and Training webpage.

Are there Bursaries and Scholarships available for Refugees? ⬇


DAFI Tertiary Scholarship Programme

The DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) scholarship programme offers qualified refugee (section 24) and returnee students the possibility to earn an undergraduate degree in their country of asylum or home country. Through the dedicated support of the governments of Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic, UNHCR and private donors, the programme has supported over 18,000 young refugees to undertake tertiary studies since 1992. To learn more please see the 2019 DAFI Programme Annual Report.

Are you a refugee looking for a scholarship? Please visit the DAFI programme FAQs page or UNHCR Scholarship portal for more information.

Other Scholarship Opportunities for Refugees

UNHCR has a platform of scholarship opportunities for Refugees that helps you to find accredited higher education academic or scholarship programmes verified by UNHCR to allow you to pursue advanced study, skills and professional development.

Access UNHCR’s Scholarship Opportunities for Refugees platform.

Who are UNHCR partners in Education? ⬇

Study Trust

StudyTrust is an educational public benefit organisation that connects learners with potential and determination to study opportunities. They administer bursaries and scholarships and provide mentoring and support to help tertiary students thrive academically and personally. Their programmes complement students’ technical and academic skills, preparing them for meaningful employment and to become active contributors to the economy.

StudyTrust Bursary Applications & Enquiries
Tel: 011 403-1632
Fax: 086 563 7495
Office Mobile: 087 511 3373
Email[email protected]

Related information

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