Parliament - More than 11.9 million pupils attend public schools across the country, according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
They are taught by 402 670 teachers, she said in a written reply to a parliamentary question, tabled on Monday.
Of the total 11 905 490 pupils, ranging from Grade R to Grade 12, about 2.8m are at schools in KwaZulu-Natal.
Gauteng has the second-highest number of public school pupils (1.93m), and the Eastern Cape has the third highest (1.86m).
South Africa's geographically biggest province, the Northern Cape, has the least number of pupils - just under 284 000.
The figures are for this year.
According to the reply, total spending on education across the nine provinces totals R186.1 billion for the current (2014/15) financial year.
In a written reply to a separate question, also tabled on Monday, Motshekga said close to 80 percent of pupils attending public schools had benefited from the department's no-fee policy last year.
“In 2013, approximately 78 percent of learners (over eight million) in about 81 percent of public schools (over 20 000 schools) benefited from the no-fee policy.
“In 2012, approximately 63 percent of children attending school did not pay tuition fees, and approximately seven percent indicated that they were paying tuition fees between one rand and R100.”
The reply reveals that last year, meals - provided in terms of the National School Nutrition Programme - were given to over eight million pupils in over 20 000 schools.