If you live in South Africa with children, there’s a range of educational childcare options to consider. A list of pre-schools and childcare centers within South Africa is included in this guide.
If you’re a working parent in South Africa, there is a good range of childcare options and pre-schools in South Africa available. This comprehensive guide tells you everything you need to know including how to enroll your child in pre-school, requirements for pre-grade R and Grade R pupils, what’s on the Grade R curriculum, together with costs you can expect to pay for preschools and daycare facilities.
The South African constitution states that “everyone has the right to a basic education.” The government has invested heavily in preschool and childcare centers to ensure a child’s education starts in early childhood development.
Subsequently, preschools in South Africa provide a Grade R curriculum recognized by the governments Early Childhood Development (ECD) program. It is the general consensus that successful early childhood development is an effort between parents, the community and the government.
The primary goal of the ECD program is to protect children’s rights to an education and develop their emotional, social and physical potential. The ECD program utilizes different learning processes, enabling children to learn about the environment and themselves.
Children’s rights and the ECD program
The rights of young South African children (ages 0-3) are expansive and include:
- protection from physical danger
- adequate nutrition and healthcare
- appropriate immunizations
- an adult with whom to form an attachment
- an adult who can understand and respond to their signals
- things to look at, touch, hear, smell, taste
- opportunities to explore their world
- appropriate language stimulation
- support in developing their motor neurons, language and thinking skills
- a chance to develop some independence
- help in learning how to control their behaviour
- opportunities to begin to learn to care for themselves
- daily opportunities to play with a variety of educational objects
When your child enters pre-school aged 3 or 4, their skills develop even further and include:
- Opportunities to develop motor skills
- encouragement of language through talking, being read to, and singing
- activities that will develop a sense of mastery
- experimentation with pre-writing and pre-reading skills
- hands-on exploration for learning through action
- opportunities for taking responsibility and making choices to develop a full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential
Pre-school in South Africa
The education system in South Africa is not compulsory for children until the age of 7 years old. Until then, you have the choice to send your child to a nursery and Grade R pre-school.
There are two preschool systems in South Africa: one is funded by the government and regulated provincially, and the other is independent and run by communities or private bodies.
Both the government and private programs consist of two main components: Pre-Grade R and Grade R programs (Reception Year). Pre-Grade R programs are intended for children between 0-4 years of age, and Grade R programs are appropriate for 5-6 year-olds. Lessons focus on language, mathematics, life skills, technology, arts and culture.
How pre-schools work in South Africa
Schools in South Africa are either run by the state or a private educational institution. Parents are free to choose to enroll your child in any school that is registered with the Provincial Education Department providing there are vacancies.
Before choosing a preschool or day care facility, ask locals for recommendations and check the school is registered with the Provincial Education Department.
It should be noted that most preschools are assigned to one of the local schools in the feeder zone, so you should consider thinking long-term and decide which school you want your child to attend before choosing a preschool.
The general rule in South Africa is that children can attend any school you wish. However, children that live in the feeder zone surrounding the school receive priority. If you live outside the catchment area, schools will accept students on a first come, first served basis providing there are vacancies.
Applying to a South African preschool
When applying to enrol your child in a preschool, you must provide the following documentation:
- Your child’s birth certificate and residence permit
- Immunisation card
- School report and transfer card if your child has attended a school previously
- If your child does not have South African citizenship, you will have to acquire a study permit and present this with your application
Schools have the right to refuse admission to students in accordance with government policies. However, your child cannot be refused admission in the following circumstances:
- You did not pay school fees in a previous school
- If you do not agree with the school’s mission statement
- You refuse to sign an injury waiver
- Late admission
- If you can’t afford books or school uniform
- When your child is not a South African citizen
- If your child has problems with the language
- In case your child has a disability
- If your child is HIV
- For racial, religious or cultural differences
Expats in South Africa rarely have difficulties finding your child a preschool in South Africa. However, if you are refused admission, you can request a formal enquiry by contacting the Department of Basic Education on their free hotline: 0800 202 933 and ask for the Department of Education Rights Project.
Choosing a preschool in South Africa
It is not compulsory for children to attend pre-school in South Africa. Therefore, parents can choose whether you want to enroll your child in a state school or organize an early development program privately. You may also want to consider whether your child is ready for pre-school mentally and emotionally.
Whilst choosing a pre-school in South Africa, you should first visit the school without your child. This gives you a chance to speak with the teachers and learn more about the Grade R curriculum. Check also if their regulations and facilities fall in line with government policies. Pre-schools typically open at 08.30 or 0900 and close at 5-6pm.
Below is a list of suggestions provided by Huggies that offers advice for parents looking for a preschool in South Africa.
- Ask for a copy of the Grade R curriculum and a program that outlines the weekly focus
- Ask about their rules and whether they have an open-door policy
- Check the facilities for space, cleanliness, and security
- Ask about the toys and activities available
- Enquire whether toys undergo regular cleaning
- Check if there is a noticeboard and how the school contacts parents
- Ask what the ratio of teachers to children is (the legal requirement is one teacher for 25 children over 3 years old)
- Observe the behavior of other children and how teachers interact with students.
On the second visit, take your child to test their reaction. This will give them the opportunity to meet teachers and other children and determine whether they like the environment. If you have reservations about how your child might cope at pre-school, ask the teachers if they think your child is ready for pre-school.
Enrolling your child in pre-school or for childcare in South Africa
The school year in South Africa starts in January. Parents must enroll children between 1 August and 31 October the preceding year. Grade R applicants must be four years old and turn five by the 30 June of the school year. Grade one applicants must be five and turn six by 30 June.
In order to enroll with a pre-school, you must complete an application form. Most schools will charge a fee for the application process in addition to annual fees. You must pay a deposit of between R500 and R5,000 depending on the school. In some pre-schools the deposit is refundable and in others it is non-refundable.
Preschool fees in South Africa
School fees vary depending on the area you live and the standard of education offered. On average, expats can expect to pay between R1000 and R2300 a month for nurseries plus any additional fees such as mattress fees, hygiene, security, and supplies. Such levies can add an extra R2,000-R3,000 a year. You should also budget around R2,500-R8,000 for the registration process.
Grade R schools are significantly less expensive and cost anywhere between R8000 and R20,000 a year for state schools and from R30,000 to R70,000 for private schools. Boarding schools add an extra R50,000 a year on top of tuition fees. In poorer areas, there are also no-fee schools and are based on the economic level of the community around the school.
Meals are typically included in the school fees, but check beforehand. Some schools recommend you send fruit and yogurt from home. You also pay for stationery and supplies for both pre-grade R and Grade R terms. Supplies include skin cream, wet wipes, nappies, tissues, and toilet paper. School uniforms are also compulsory in most schools.
Activities during school hours include sports, drama, and day trips. Because these activities are provided by state facilities, you must pay an additional R500 a term.
Some nurseries also open outside the school year to act as a daycare center. However, additional fees apply for your child at a nursery outside the school year.
If you cannot pay school fees, the pre-school still must admit your child. Suitable arrangements are possible with the school to pay what you can. A school can take legal action against you for failing to pay fees, however.
If your annual earnings are 10 times less than the annual school fees, you are exempt from payment.
What is the Grade R Curriculum at nursery schools in South Africa?
The curriculum in preschool has two parts. The pre-grade R curriculum introduces your child to reading, writing, basic mathematics and the basics of a second language. The pre-grade R curriculum lasts for three years.
The senior primary school runs the Grade-R curriculum which includes history, geography and science in addition to the staples started in junior primary school. Older students also learn handy craft skills such as needlework, woodwork or art. The basic education system in South Africa also provides parents with a Grade R Resource Kit, more of which you can learn about here.
You can also learn more about the pre-school curriculum and early development program in the Government’s CAPS document.
Childcare and creche fees in South Africa
Parents with children under 18-months have the option to leave your child in a crèche or educare centre that specialises in care for babies and toddlers up to the age of three.
Staff in childcare centers must have relevant qualifications in childcare, but may not necessarily have degrees in early childhood development.
An alternative option is to send your child to an educare center that focuses on educational activities. The staff there have qualifications in early childhood development and arrange an appropriate syllabus to help the progress of your child’s cognitive and social skills.
Both crèche and educare centers are fully-equipped with appropriate facilities including meals, drinks, snacks, nappy changes and cots for nap times. However, you may need to bring supplies to help with running costs.
Childcare centers in South Africa typically open at 06.30 and can look after your child for up to 12 hours. Expect to pay fees of around R1500 to R4500 a month depending on where you live.
Pre-schools in South Africa provide full day education, half day or three-quarter day. However, parents that work full-time should be able to find childcare facilities that accommodate Grade R children after school hours.
Many after school facilities provide space for children to continue their school work, whilst others focus on sports or games that are educational and fun for students. Each after-school runs their own program so you will probably need to look around for the most suitable option for your child. Childcare and creche fees vary between establishments.
If you’re expecting a new arrival and need advice, read more in our guide about having a baby in South Africa.