Top Education Schools - South Africa's Cream off the Crop

A good education is one of the cornerstones of a bright future. Therefore, identifying the top education schools in the country should be a priority for each and every parent. Fortunately, the best doesn’t always costs the most and many of the top performing schools in the country are successful because of good teachers, a solid teaching philosophy and a supportive school governing body, not because they charge astronomical school fees.

Determining which criteria to use to compare the top education schools, proves to be more of a challenge. What makes a top education school? A hundred percent matric pass rate? The total number of distinctions obtained by matriculants in the final exam? Or is it the awards and accolades given to teachers?

An article by Buzz South Africa paid attention to historical prominence at national and regional level. It is therefore no surprise that Grey College in Bloemfontein occupies the top spot. The other top five schools in South Africa based on this factor are King Edward VII School in Johannesburg, Hilton College, a private school in KwaZulu-Natal, St John’s College in Johannesburg and Maritzburg College in Pietermaritzburg.

However, a survey by Serve Africa used a 100% pass rate, plus the total number of students who wrote and passed the matric exams as a guideline, which gave a slightly different result. It produced a list of the twenty top education schools in all the provinces, with Hudson Park High School in East London, Eunice Senior Secondary in Bloemfontein, Eldoraigne High School in Centurion, Durban Girls High in Durban and Paarl Vallei High in Paarl topping the various lists, among others.

It is clear that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to identifying top education schools. Key to finding the right school for your child, is to visit the school premises and talk to the educators. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to push for answers if necessary. A top education is one of the most important gifts you can give your child and should never be compromised.

Special needs Education - Is South Africa doing enough?

The Greek biographer of the ancient philosophers, Diogenes Laertius said: “The foundation of every state, is the education of its youth.”

Most people would agree that education is the cornerstone of any civilisation and the only way to ensure a prospering, developing nation. However, a one-size-fits-all approach to education would be totally fruitless, especially when it comes to those with special needs.

Special needs education is defined as the practice of educating learners with special needs in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs (Wikipedia). A more individual approach, and in many cases adapted equipment, materials and settings, often allow these students to achieve a higher success rate in the classroom than what they might have achieved in a typical classroom environment.

Common special needs include learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional and behavioural disorders and developmental disabilities.

Sadly in South Africa, these special schools are limited, particularly in rural areas. According to the website, Independent Living, almost 70% of children with disabilities of school-going age are presently out of school. Consequently, illiteracy and low skills are high among adults with disabilities, which results in high levels of unemployment.

A quick search on the website,, reveals that there are 448 special needs schools in South Africa, mostly catering for general special needs. The highest concentration of special needs schools are in Gauteng (155), with the Western Cape (85) and KwaZulu-Natal (79) second and third respectively. The other provinces have much less special education institutions with Mpumalanga (20) and the Northern Cape (10) having the least. The North West province have no special needs schools listed.

South Africa has adopted an inclusive education policy aimed at addressing the barriers to learning in the education system. The policy is explained in Education White Paper 6: Special Needs Education. However, the country still faces huge challenges with regard to the lack of teachers’ skills and knowledge in differentiating the curriculum to address different needs.

An article in the African Journal of Disability maintains that the first step in addressing special needs education in South Africa, is for teachers to address the range of diverse learning needs in their classrooms. This will require new skills, training and support from the educational system. It also proposes a new approach to educational design as represented by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model. The UDL model deals with designing all aspects of the learning environment to address the wide-ranging variation of student needs that exist in an inclusive educational system.

It is clear that there are many thoughts and many ideas around special education in South Africa. Educators, specialists and government must work together to ensure that no South African falls between the cracks of a lacking education system.

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Special Education Schools – Two Famous Facilities in Worcester

When one thinks of special education schools, a certain Western Cape town comes to mind. Worcester.

It is here, between the majestic Du Toitskloof and Hex River mountains, where you will find two of South Africa’s most well-known schools for children with special needs. Indeed, here special education schools are nothing strange. Seeing blind and deaf learners making their way around town is part and parcel of everyday life.

The Pioneer School caters for blind learners, partially sighted learners, deafblind learners and learners with learning barriers.

The school’s website proclaims that their main aim is to ensure that their learners are educated in a safe and happy environment. They strive towards empowering their learners to become responsible and independent citizens who have reached their full potential and who can serve their communities with self-respect and self-confidence. The Pioneer Schools remains a beacon of hope for parents and learners.

The blind person has always been part of mankind, but has not always been part of society.  For centuries society marginalized the blind, leaving their care in the hands of the family.

In 1784, however, this changed when the first school for the blind was established in Paris, France.

South Africa had to wait almost another hundred years for its first school for the blind. 1881 was the year in which “Het Doofstommen en Blinden Instituut” was established in Worcester. It was the brainchild of two ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church, Pastor William Murray of Worcester and Pastor Christiaan Rabie of Piketberg. This institution paved the way for the education of the blind.

The first teacher entrusted with the educational needs of these learners was Mr Jan de la Bat. The academic programme with special adaptations was developed, and very soon the blind child followed the National Curriculum as offered in mainstream schools throughout the country. As they do till this day.

In 1981 the name of the school changed from School for the Blind to the Pioneer School.

The second of the special education schools in Worcester is the De La Bat School. It serves as a special school for the deaf’s educational needs.

As far as special education schools go, De La Bat has quite a few unique features and offerings.

They employ deaf and hearing educators and assistants. They offer South African Sign Language as a subject from 3years to grade 12. They take pride in their vocational and skills orientated courses. They have a section for multi-disabled deaf learners as well as diverse sport and cultural activities.

Support services on campus are also not neglected. There is ample health care, social services, and psychological, audiological and occupational services.

Students are further supported by way of transport for day scholars as well as weekend and holiday transport. Nine hostels ensure that age appropriate 24 hour care is provided.

First-year teachers at special education schools worldwide are said to find their job extremely challenging. International trends suggest that first-year special education teachers are more likely to leave the service than main stream teachers (Gehrke & McCoy, 2007). Studies indicate that low job satisfaction can be attributed to an excessive workload because of curriculum changes, unreasonable demands and a lack of support systems (Castro et al., 2010; Howard & Johnson, 2004; Kirk & Wall, 2010).

Bullying in schools

First of all you need to know why this happens. Bullies tend to gain power by feeding on the self-esteem of their victims. It’s therefore essential that parents be able to identify the tell-tale signs of bullying and are able to protect their children against bullying in schools But the question is, what signs should one look out for?

In order to identify whether your child is a possible target you need to observe your child’s behavior and look for obvious signs that he/she might be a target. Does your child wear strange or outlandish clothing? Does he/she walk slumped with head down? Does your child prefer to sit alone while other children play? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then you’re child could be a victim of bullying in schools. It’s difficult and almost impossible to eradicate bullying in schools however, a few things can be done to help decrease the chances of your child becoming a victim of bullying in schools.

Your child will learn from the way you handle everyday situations and behave accordingly. When around your child carry yourself well. If one parent bullies another, your child will pick up on this behavior. Also avoid intervening in your child’s squabbles with other children, except in serious instances, as your child must learn to stand up for him or herself. Bullies often target children who are too afraid to stand up for themselves.

Encourage your child to talk to you if they encounter bullying in schools even if other children are the victims. Also encourage them to make and accept their own mistakes. Teach them to laugh their mistakes off and not be too hard on themselves as this is something a bully will feed on.

Remember as well that while you are looking for signs that your child is being bullied bullying in schools can also see your child dishing out the abuse to other children. Once again pay attention to your behavior in front of your children as they will pick up on domineering behavior. Have house rules your child must abide by and ensure there is both supervision and discipline. There is a fine line between raising a bully and raising a victim. Take note of the tips above to ensure that you are raising a happy child who is neither being bullied nor bullying other children.

Best Education Schools often unorthodox

A new global league table, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Pearson, has found that Finland has the best education schools in the world. For Finland, this achievement is no fluke. Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, the country’s school system has consistently come in at the top of the international rankings for best education schools.

To the Western world, Finland’s education system might seem unorthodox.

Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7. They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens. The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education. There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.

All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms. Almost 70 percent of students go to college – the highest rate in Europe. The school system is 100% state funded. There is therefore in Finland technically no reason for a learner not to enjoy an excellent education. As part of its quest to produce best education schools, all teachers in Finland must have a masters degree. Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.

Another country worth mentioning when best education schools are discussed, is China. It has followed Finland’s lead and is also in the process of moving away from an exam-based system.

In 1985, Shanghai began a process of reform and created exams that test the application of real-life skills.

Despite the reforms, exams however still exist. Most students attend weekend “cram schools” to ensure that they pass. This comes in addition to nightly homework and extracurricular activities – making the life of a Chinese student overwhelming.

Germany is widely acknowledged as one of the most developed countries in the world. It is thus expected of them to boast some of the best education schools, globally.

Yet, you might find the way they regard education, surprising. Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility.

For example: They don’t push reading. Kindergartens don’t emphasize academics. In fact parents are discouraged to teach their children to read. Kindergarten is a time for play and social learning. But even in first grade, academics aren’t pushed very hard. A half-day of instruction is interrupted by two protracted outdoor recesses. This relaxed approach does however not mean a poor education: German 15-year-olds perform well above the international average when it comes to reading, math and science.

Meanwhile the biggest ever global school rankings were published recently, with African countries right at the bottom. Ghana came stone last, with South Africa second last.

Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, recently had the following to say on social media regarding best education schools in South Africa: “The top schools in our country are those who turn the few resources they have into outstanding academic results. Those who produce top results with the best resources available are supposed to do well.”

It would be interesting to know whether Finland’s thinking features in South African education leaders’ future plans.