Boarding in South Africa
10th Aug 2022
Overall Cost per year of Boarding in South Africa (year 12) Dhs121,109
(Based on year 12 at Summerset College)
While the South African Rand continues to fall against other world currencies the country affords some really high quality educational experiences at rock bottom prices.
The vast majority of South African boarding schools are registered with the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) and remain true to their colonial era roots, retaining strong Christian values and brimming with old-world tradition. However, the past 25 years has seen a new breed of modern schools begin to emerge, offering international curriculums and non-denominational boarding houses.
Located in the southern hemisphere, South African schools take their long summer holiday in December/January, which isn’t always ideal for those parents still living in the northern hemisphere. This also means most children arriving from above the Equator will ‘go-back’ six months to join their age group.
So, what am I paying for?
Parents, who choose carefully, can get a whole lot of school at rock bottom prices. Even attending South Africa’s most expensive school, St John’s College is significantly cheaper than educating a child in the UAE.
For Dhs59,000 tuition fees, the school offers all the pomp, tradition, elite alumni connections, the best sporting facilities that a top class school offers.
While many schools have left Christianity behind and now stand resolutely non-denominational, the majority of South African boarding schools still maintain a strong focus on a child’s spiritual development. With their own chapels, evensong, and centuries old tradition centered on Christianity, for those who want religion to play a part in their child’s upbringing, South Africa offers it all.
South African boarding schools are known for their sporting achievements and many of the country’s great sportsmen have been a product of the boarding school system. Known for their competitive edge and emphaisis on rugby, cricket, and now football, boarding schools are ideal for children wanting to develop their sporting skills.
While the big South African names might not be known in the UK or the US, they still retain a huge draw across Africa. For those planning to attend the continent’s best universities, attending a good school is key, and according to a recent 2015 report, the continent’s top five universities are all based in South Africa.
Additional costs to consider
Non-South African learners need a valid study permit to take up schooling or studies in South Africa. The process of getting a study permit can be quite long and applications can take anything up to three months or longer to be approved.
Student visa: $72 (265 AED)
Most South African boarding pupils are required to have compulsory pupil insurance cover.
R140 per year (44 AED)
The majority of South African schools add an additional annual fee for various levies, these include: safety, building and development fund levies.
Total levies for Rhodean School:
R12,549 per year, 46,000 AED
Considering the miles involved, flights to South Africa are not especially expensive. Emirates Airlines flies daily to Johannesburg and flights cost between Dhs3,000 and 8,000 depending on availability.
5,000 AED x3 = 15,000 AED
Pocket money, materials, weekend travel expenses, uniforms and other costs can add between 15 and 20 percent in extra expenditure to the monthly boarding school costs.
South African Schools to consider
St John’s College
Johannesburg, South Africa
Co-ed Anglican school
Ages 13 +
Up to R115,000 per year plus boarding fees of R67,000 Dhs59,000
South Africa’s most expensive school, accepts children from nursery right through to grade 12. Traditional in every sense, it’s been offering academic, sporting and spiritual care to South Africa’s elite for over 115 years. Originally established by an Irish monk the school has retained its standing for over a century.
What they say:
“Most importantly, our curriculum is underpinned by Christian values. Our Divinity for Life programme is designed to give our boys a strong Christian foundation which they are encouraged to build on in their daily lives.”
Western Cape, South Africa
Co-ed education from nursery to 18
Ages 13 +
: Up to R89,900 plus boarding: R64,500 (48,800 AED)
IEB and Cambridge A-Levels
The newbie on the scene, Summerset is only 18 years old, but has a lot going for it. Set in the stunning South Africa wine region on a picture perfect farm it’s known for its extensive and unique environmental and outdoor options.
What they say:
"At Somerset College, there is a keen focus on educating the whole child. Academics, Sport, Cultural Activities, Leadership and Spiritual Development, Environmental and Outdoor Programmes ensure that every student can flourish and explore individual talent in any number of spheres.”
Cornwall Hill College
Gauteng, South Africa
Grades 7 +
Up to R53,856 boarding: R44,100 Dhs31,000
With a focus on sport, culture, music and academics- Cornwall is unique in South Africa for being one of the few schools to have no church links. Established in 1998 the school might be new, but it’s starting to give its traditional competition a real run for its money.
What they say:
“The cultural aspect of the co-curricular programme at the College is as highly valued as academics and sport. Pupils are given the opportunity to participate in an extensive range of activities such as debating, public speaking and drama. Recent cultural trips have included Grahamstown, North America and Europe.”
The South African Option - Woodridge College in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
A Q and A with Graca Ward, a UAE-based parent of two
Why did you decide to send your children to boarding school in South Africa?
We considered boarding school for the last two years of our children’s schooling because we felt they were missing out on many of the fun activities we enjoyed growing up in South Africa. School back home was filled with extra-curricula activities. We took it for granted at the time but then found that our children’s Dubai school offered no after-school activities at all. We found ourselves stuck in traffic transporting them from horse-riding to sailing, to guitar classes and football and watching them run around in the heat and dust. In addition to all the inconvenience we paid a fortune for all the extras. We also felt the children were under-performing, based on their very average marks. Most South Africans schools have a more holistic approach to education so they promote health and fitness by providing sports coaching and also social activities, like speech and drama and debating clubs for the less sporty children. This really develops their confidence and leadership skills.
Did you feel your children missed out on anything by not going to school in the UAE?
In our case the children attended school in Dubai but went back to SA for their last two years. We didn’t feel they were missing out at all, in fact they were happier there and their grades improved a lot.
How would you rate the South African boarding experience?
We found their boarding experience very supportive and positive. We knew that some of the boarding schools could at times be perceived as “snobby” or unnecessarily traditional so we chose a school out in the country in the Eastern Cape. The school offered all the sports we could imagine and they also took the children hiking and camping, swimming in rivers and dams, horse-riding in the country-side and taught first-aid and surf-rescue skills too. The school staff strongly encouraged the children to participate, it didn’t matter whether they were sporty or not, as long as they participated in some of the activities on offer.
What was best about the experience, and worst about it?
The best part was that the children were mostly very happy. They seemed to grow up really fast and we immediately noticed they were much more independent and confident than before. The worse part for us was being so far away from them because we missed them a lot. The travel budget was also a lot more than we had initially thought because we brought both the children back to Dubai for all their holidays and also had to purchase the internal flights from Johannesburg International to Port Elizabeth (four times a year…and then we also visited them at school twice outside of their holidays).
Would you recommend boarding to other parents?
We would highly recommend the experience to other parents but at times we wished there was family nearby to look in on them and support them at sporting events on the weekends.
Is it an option do you think for everyone, or specifically South Africans?
There were some overseas students at the school. There were two boys from Argentina who chose a South African school because they wanted to have good rugby coaching and to be educated in English. There was a also a boy from Germany whose parents wanted him to be educated with English as a first language and they felt the standards were very good in SA. Quite a few of the foreign students were from neighbouring countries.
What did your children think - before, during and after their boarding school experience?
Before they went to boarding school the children were very reluctant to go and at times thought we were threatening them with a punishment. After we discussed it properly they understood that they could come back to Dubai if they really disliked being there.
For us it was important to give them the opportunity to live in South Africa again and understand the culture and traditions which make South Africa so colourful and so diverse. During their time there they mostly loved it, although there were some complaints about strict bed-times and having to eat what was provided. Our kids were used to bargaining with us and getting their own way if they nagged enough, so having study times for each of their subjects was quite a shock. Since leaving school they have often said they wished they had spent more of their school years there.
Would you do it again if you could make the choice again?
We would definitely do it again but it’s important to choose a place which the children can relate to. Some schools are very competitive and others might be more supportive and nurturing. It’s also important to make the children feel they can visit for the holidays as much as possible and encourage open communication so they can complain about anything they are unhappy with.