Local or International Matric Pass? Understanding education options in South Africa

NSC, IEB, Cambridge education systems

NSC, IEB, Cambridge, Homeschooling, SACAI, Bachelors Pass… These terms used in the education system of SA are all mindboggling, frustrating and absolutely overwhelming!

In this article, lets breakdown and understand the various terms and acronyms that pop up when looking for the best school for your family.


Perhaps the best way to understand the types of schools available is to divide them into 3 categories.

1.    Public schools

Public schools: what we know as government schools, typically fully funded by the government.

Model C schools: Government schools that are partially funded by the schools parents and run by the school governing body.

2.    Private Schools

Private schools: Independently managed schools, funded by the parents, alumni and various other.

Online schools: Breaking tradition, these schools offer the opportunity and flexibility to study from anywhere, anytime. They are a division of private schools.

Alternative schools: refer to educational institutions in South Africa that offer unconventional or non-traditional approaches to education. These schools often diverge from the standard curriculum and teaching methods found in mainstream schools.  Some of these schools include a more child centred approach such as Montessori and Waldorf schools. It also includes religious and culturally orientated schools

3.    Homeschooling

Homeschools: Typically taught at home by a parent (with or without the help of a tutor) using an approved curricula. The school must be registered.

Homeschooling Tutor Centre: Small groups of learners (usually not more than 5 per group)  taught together at a dedicated centre. Lessons are taught by a tutor, not necessarily a parent – often referred to as a micro-school. Must be registered.



South African schools generally follow either of the following curricula:

  1. CAPS (SA)
  2. Cambridge (British)
  3. GED (American)

Private schools, however, may differ in their approach to teaching these curricula, eg: waldorf, neurodiverse, or even online.




Matric, as many South Africans know it, is the highest qualification one can achieve in school. One can only attend further or tertiary education at universities or colleges once matric is obtained (see below). A matric certificate is known as the NSC (National Senior Certificate).

There are 3 examining bodies in SA that set the bar to help you achieve your NSC in all fairness:

  1. DBE (the Department of Basic Education). Exams are set by the department. These exams are written by all public schools and some private schools.
  2. IEB (Independent Examining Body). Exams are set by a private governing body. These exams are written by most private school learners.
  3. SACAI (South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute). Exams are set and governed by assessment bodies, typically for the homeschool learners. NB! Not all assessment bodies are accrredited by SACAI, and many of them CANNOT issue a report.

Important to note that:

  • All these bodies base their exams on the CAPS curriculum
  • One can study internationally by passing any of the above exams. The entry requirements into a specific institute overseas may differ, and one may need to write an entry exam. But, having an NSC does not stop one from studying abroad.

For International Qualifications

In this case, the highest qualification will be determined by the curriculum.  The private institute will set the exam (usually overseas) based on the curricula they are using.

More or less equivalent to Matric NSC with some noticeable differences.

  • Cambridge (British Curriculum): A Levels

A levels is recognised as achieving  a higher academic standard  than Matric NSC -Cambridge A Level qualifications are accepted by South African universities and also valued by prestigious institutions worldwide, including Ivy League and Ivy Plus universities in the US, as well as universities in the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, and beyond.

  • GED (American curriculum) :

The Advanced American High School Diploma (also called College Prep or Honors Diploma) It is a grade 12 equivalency credential recognised in SA, by TVET colleges and some online universities

In a nutshell:

Ok, so now lets get this right:

  • All South African schools follow the CAPS curriculum.
  • All South African schools write the matric exam (NSC) based on the CAPS curriculum.
  • Private schools that follow the international curricula such as GED and Cambridge have independent examining bodies.



Bachelor’s Pass:

  • A bachelors pass allows you to study at any higher education institutions, like universities and colleges, to become doctors, lawyers and psychologists.
  • You must get: 50% for five subjects, incl Life Orientation.
  • And 30% for two other subjects
  • You are only allowed to fail one subject.


  • A diploma allows you to attend some higher learning institutions and technical colleges, to study things like engineering, nursing and many other things.
  • You must get at least 40% in five subjects including Life Orientation.
  • and at least 30% in two other subjects
  • and can only fail one subject.

Higher Certificate:

  • you can apply to TVET colleges and some private colleges to study in a field of your choice, as long as you meet the admission requirements.
  • You must obtain at least40% in Home Language.
  • and 40% in at least two subjects
  • and 30% in three other subjects.
  • You are also still only allowed to fail one subject.

Note: University entrance for various careers are based on a points system and criteria specific to the institution.

The content of this article is based on guidance from :

Nova Pioneer, an independent school network in SA offering Gr 000- A Levels using the Cambridge Curriculum and

Mindscape Education: a homeschooling curriculum provider for students using the CAPS curriculum and writing the DBE or IEB matric exams.

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