Public vs private schooling: These are the facts

File picture: Whichever you choose, commit to your choice wholeheartedly and do not be under the illusion that the school will be doing 100 percent of the job for your child.

File picture: Whichever you choose, commit to your choice wholeheartedly and do not be under the illusion that the school will be doing 100 percent of the job for your child.

Published Jan 31, 2017


Schooling is one of the great concerns of parents today. As parents, we have the daunting responsibility to send our child to a place which not only offers a valuable education, but to a place which is safe and reliable, assuring our child a great foundation for a promising future.

What about the parents who do not have the luxury of deciding where their children go?

The public/private debate has been an unremitting one for as long as I can remember. I have been one of the lucky few to have attended both government and private schools in my youth, have taught at both and my children have attended both too. So I feel equipped to inform you from a parent, teacher and scholar’s point of view what the pros and cons of both are. Yes, you heard right – there are cons of private schooling too.

When I refer to government schooling, you must take into consideration there are two categories of government schools. The government funds one in totality and the other is partially funded by the governing body, which is made up of the principal, parents and teachers.

This category of government school is found somewhere between the public and the private school, is on the higher end of the fee spectrum and is often found in reputable areas. Schools like these are SACS, Blouberg Ridge Primary and Westerford.

Private schools follow two sets of curricula. Most follow the Independent Examinations Board (IEB). As the word ‘independent’ suggests, they have their own assessment panel. The private schools not examined by this body or following this curriculum are the international schools that follow the Cambridge curriculum.


The Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) council assesses these students. Where Caps and IEB are not vastly different in their content, grading, subject choice and pass requirements, CIE differs completely.

The only major difference to date is the matriculation pass rate. This has nothing to do with the standard of examinations, but is rather due to external factors impacting on pupils' ability to learn, such as large classrooms, getting lost in the system and resources being minimal.

So the big question remains whether one should go the private school or public school route?

When choosing a school there are many factors to consider:



Extra curricular activities.

Tertiary acceptance.

Religious and cultural and gender preferences.

Scholastic support.

First and foremost, affordability is a major factor in choosing a school. Private schools in particular are largely unaffordable, and people feel that what is offered does not warrant that amount of money spent per annum. For those who can afford the monthly fees, it is the monumental deposit you need to pay beforehand that is inaccessible.

Location is something parents look at, as transport issues may hamper ability to get to schools. Location may also affect friendship circles, as distance will affect play dates, extra-mural activities and lift schemes.

This brings me to the next point, being extra-curricular activities. Certain schools offer a limited scope of sports or cultural activities, which may not include those which highlight a pupil's strengths.

For example your child may be an avid swimmer, but the school may not be equipped with a swimming pool. Your child may be an eager rugby player, however the school may offer only soccer and hockey. A child can always attend outsourced clubs for sports and cultural-based programs, but these often incur additional costs.

Another factor is tertiary acceptance. To gain acceptance into our local universities a pupil is required to obtain a NSC with matric exemption for matric examinations. These comply with the rules and regulations of the Caps curriculum.

Some schools, being IEB, may be required to do an additional entrance exam and, in this regard, government schools are favoured. But the pass rate among IEB schools has been greater. If your child aims to travel to the UK for tertiary education, your best option would be a CIE school, as the curriculum differs completely to that of government and IEB schools, which are both managed by Umalusi, whereas CIE schools are done by a Cambridge University Board.

Here A and AS levels are completed. AS level is completed at the end of year 12 in isolation, and A level is competed a year after our matric year, being equivalent to a first-year Cambridge University course.

Vital role

For some, religion and gender play a vital role in the decision-making process. If you are Catholic a school such as St John’s CBC or St Mary’s is the route you will go. It also goes for a Jewish school such as Herzlia and it goes for Islamic, Hindi and other cultures and religions. Some prefer their children to mix only with members of the same sex for concentration, sporting opportunities and adolescent and hormonal development concerns.

Some people like to mix purely with people of their own culture, whereas others feel that it is important to mix with all cultures, socio-economic classes and genders as South Africa is a rainbow nation, and not conforming to that in schools provides a misperception of what our society is all about.

Lastly, consider scholastic support. Some children may have severe learning disabilities and require schooling in a pure remedial environment, whereas others may require just enough support to function optimally in the classroom, and therefore an in-house therapist is all that is required.

All of the above play a role in choosing a school. There is no ‘right’ school. Each of the above has its pros and its cons. To each their own. I have attended both sides as a child, a teacher and therapist, and now as a parent too. I have seen the positives in both and this really is an extremely personal preference.

Whichever you choose, commit to your choice wholeheartedly and do not be under the illusion that the school will be doing 100 percent of the job for your child.

You as a parent have a third to play, your child has the other third and the school has the last third. It is a team effort and if all parties do their portions, your child’s academic and emotional experience will be a fruitful one.

* Lee Koetser is author of parenting column Mama's and Papa's

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