HOMESCHOOLING IN SOUTH AFRICA: Implications for other African Nations

Record: Michael Olalekan Olatunji, “Contemporary Homeschooling in the Republic of South Africa: Some Lessons for Other African Nations” in Middle Eastern and African Journal of Educational Research 9 (2014): 4-16. [Available Here]

Summary: Olatunji, whose affiliation is listed as the Botswana Institute for Educational Leadership, here summarizes the home education situation in South Africa and uses it to exemplify opportunities and potential pitfalls for other African nations.

He begins with a brief history of home-based learning in South Africa, noting that for many families in the past education at home was the only option given the lack of formal institutions.  Once schools were established home education faded, though it has lately been coming back, this time as a choice rather than a necessity.  But the scope of the movement in South Africa is far smaller than it has been in many European countries and especially the United States.  Of the few African nations that have at least a little home education (he mentions Botswana, Kenya, and Uganda), however, South Africa has the most.

The South African homeschooling movement began, according to Olatunji, in 1994, when Andre and Bokkie Meintijies were prosecuted by the government for homeschooling their children.  Activists Graham and Allison Shortridge came to the aid of the Mientijies family by hiring American HSLDA lawyer Chris Klicka to provide legal counsel.  The Shortridges had an ally in the South African Parliament by the name of Louis Green.  With his help the Shortridges made a presentation on the virtues of homeschooling to Parliament, and Green provided a large quantity of HSLDA-derived literature for his fellows.  These early efforts eventually resulted in the passage of the South African School Act (no. 84 of 1996), which went into effect in January of 1997.  It legalized home education in South Africa and set regulatory parameters in accordance with the broader National Education Policy Act (NEPA).  These regulations were updated in 1998 and again in 1999, when the final policy for the Registration of Learners for Home Education was passed.

NEPA guidelines for home education are quite strict compared to U.S. statutes.  They forbid the use of homeschooling to “instill unfair discrimination, racism or religious intolerance in learners” and set various stipulations, including that home education be “in the best interest of the learner,” that a parent submit a proposed learning program that meets the minimum curricular requirements of the public schools, that the government language policy and eight learning areas be followed, that at least three hours of teaching a day be provided, that records of attendance and a portfolio be kept, that mandatory assessment of student progress be maintained, and that no abuse or indoctrination of the child into religious or racial intolerance takes place. (p. 8)

In 1994 the Shortridges knew of only a small number of families who were secretly teaching their children at home.  After the passage of the new law home education took off in South Africa.  Organizations such as the National Coalition of Homeschoolers and the Pestalozzi Trust were founded in the late 1990s, and movement activists estimated an overall homeschooling population of 2,000 to 2,400.  By 2001 estimates had ballooned to upwards of 10,000, with some claiming as many as 50,000 by 2003.  According to the 2011 South African census there were 65,000 home learners in the country.

After covering this history Olatunji moves on to the topic of parental motivation.  Here he relies heavily on an important 2007 piece by Susette Brynard, which I reviewed here.  After interviewing a wide spectrum of home educating parents, Brynard concluded that South African homeschoolers were motivated by many of the same things that motivated U.S. homeschooling parents.  There were the push factors of bad school experiences and the pull factors of family-centered moral and religious values.  Bullying was cited often, but so was a problem that is far worse in South Africa than in the United States–the sexual abuse of female students by male teachers.  Olatunji cites figures from the African Child Policy Forum to the effect that 32% of child rape cases in South Africa are carried out by teachers.  In addition, the South African dropout rate is very high and the literacy and numeracy rate is very low.  Student substance abuse rates are high as well.

Given such factors it is understandable that parents who have the means to do so often seek to remove their children from the government schools.  Olatunji worries, however, about the many families who might not be registering their home education with the government, perhaps out of concern with the strict reporting requirements.  He wishes that more complete data were available to assess the success of homeschooling in South Africa.

Olatunji concludes his article by drawing out some lessons from his story for other African countries.  He notes that however bad the problems of public education are in South Africa, they are far worse in most other countries.  Home education has provided a substantial number of South African families with an alternative to an overcrowded school system that fails a large percentage of its children.  But in most other African countries home education is still “taboo,” and the school systems of these countries are in real crisis.  According to the Africa Learning Barometer over half of students in the schools of Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Zambia cannot read or do basic arithmetic.  Sexual abuse of students, especially girls, is rampant both en route to school and at school itself.  Olatunji is quick to say that home education is not the panacea to these problems for the entire continent, especially given the high levels of poverty and illiteracy among parents.  What he is saying, however, is that “parents who are in a position to make use of homeschooling should follow the example of South African parents by embracing the option as a personal initiative in salving their school children from paying so dearly for the problems that they did not cause.” (p. 13)

Appraisal:  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article.  Its account of the battle to legalize home education in South Africa and its population growth figures are the first I’ve seen in English, and its capable blending of Brynard’s research with more recent material on the problems in South African schools makes it probably the best single source today for an English-speaking audience for information about home education in South Africa.

One curious omission, however, is its lack of any mention of race except when summarizing the provisions of the NEPA guidelines.  Those guidelines make abundantly clear that many in government in the late 1990s (recall what had happened in South African government in the 1990s) feared that homeschooling would be used by white South Africans to indoctrinate their children into a white-supremacist Christian identity that had until just a few years previous been official government policy.  What percentage of these ever-increasing thousands of home-educated students in South Africa are white?  One would think that would be a question Olatunji would want to ask.  But he doesn’t.  Here in the United States the most politically active homeschoolers have typically been conservative white Christians.  I would imagine that the same is true in South Africa, but I have no guidance on the matter from this otherwise excellent article.

Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.

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2 Responses to HOMESCHOOLING IN SOUTH AFRICA: Implications for other African Nations

  1. Isaac D says:

    Do you / does anyone know where the number of home-educating families was presented in the 2011 South African census and how it was calculated?

    I’ve seen the 65k figure quoted in several sources, but I haven’t been able to find it yet on the census website (

  2. Shawn Mathis says:

    Hello, You may want to review the results of Dr. Ray’s latest millennial/homeschooling survey (the doppelganger of HARO’s recent survey) here:

    He is still putting it up through a peer-review journal.

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