Options for school-leaving certification for homseschoolers in SA

certificateYou have enjoyed homeschooling your children, but suddenly you realize that they are needing to leave the school room and enter the world. What proof do they have that they have a solid education behind them? What will prospective employers and tertiary institutions accept as valid schooling leaving qualifications? As a friend of mine's son pointed out to her, "No university or employer is going to accept me because my mom says I can do it!"

Children going to school in South Africa write the National Senior Certificate (NCS) exams at the end of their twelve years of schooling. These exams are commonly known as the 'matric' exams and they will determine whether a child can continue to study at tertiary level (either at diploma or degree level) or not. But what about homeschooled children? What certificate do they obtain at the end of their schooling?

 There are at least four options open to the homeschooler, namely:

  • NSC - (National Senior Certificate) - South Africa
  • IEB - (Independent Examinations Board National Senior Certificate) - South African private schools
  • GED - (General Education Diploma / Development) and/or SAT  - United States of America
  • Cambridge Assessment International Education - Based in the United Kingdom but operates globally

NSC - National Senior Certificate

The National Senior Certificate is based on the South Africa government curriculum, and the exams are administered by the Department of Basic Education. Umalusi is responsible for the quality assurance of the assessment and the issuing of university exemption certificates. I was always under the impression that children had to attend school in order to write the National Senior Certificate exams, but this does not seem to be true. There are now a number of curriculum providers that offer programmes to private candidates and homeschoolers that culminate in the National Senior Certificate exams.

The advantage of this option is that it is the accepted qualification issued by the South African Department of Basic Education and therefore accepted and understood by South African universities, making the process of applying to university therefore much simpler. However, the student may not be as well prepared to handle academic study at university as a student studying Cambridge International. The National Senior Certificate is not as internationally accepted as Cambridge International is, making studying overseas more difficult.

IEB - Independent Examination Board

The Independent Examination Board (IEB) is an independent assessment authority in South Africa, although it is still moderated by the Department of Basic Education. The IEB  also issues a senior certificate which is accredited through Umalusi. Most private schools write their 'matric' exams through the IEB. Homeschoolers can write the IEB NSC through various distance education centres.

The advantage of this option is that, like the NSC option, it is understood and accepted by the South African Department of Basic Education and South African universities. There is a perception that it is at a slightly higher level than the state NSC — probably because the exams are internationally benchmarked, making the IEB NSC more easily recognized by overseas universities than the government NSC.


The GED and SAT are American-based certification options and reflect the American education system. They are benchmark tests rather than well-developed education programmes. The GED includes four subject tests, namely language arts, maths, science and social studies. The SAT tests are more focused on maths and language arts which would include critical reading and writing. The SAT includes an admission component for students wanting to attend college. Both options have computer-based tests that can be written whenever the student is ready.

GED is probably one of the cheaper options. While universities may accept GED for some courses, more academic courses like medicine, engineering and science may not be accessible to students with a GED. The process of being accepted for university study using the GED is also more complicated than the other options since a student with a GED certificate can only obtain conditional university exemption (rather than full exemption). Students with a GED may also find that they do not have the necessary academic skills or background to cope easily at tertiary level. It would be more advisable for students pursuing American certification and wanting to study at university to complete the SAT.

Cambridge Assessment International Education

Cambridge Assessment International Education is the new brand name for Cambridge International ( Cambridge Assessment International Education). Cambridge International is part of Cambridge Assessment, which is a department of the University of Cambridge in the UK and has been overseeing international examinations since 1864. Cambridge International operates in over 160 countries, making them one of the largest suppliers of global educational programmes. Their qualifications are internationally recognized by employers and tertiary institutions, including Universities South Africa (USAf) and the public South African universities. The IG (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) is recognized as equivalent to a South African grade 11, while the AS level is equivalent to a South African grade 12 and the international A level is equivalent to a grade 13. (This is higher than the South African grade 12 level but not quite at a full first year university level - hence the 'grade 13'). Cambridge International offers a wide range of subjects, many of which are available to private candidates. To find out more about Cambridge Assessment International Education, see their website. You can also find out more about Cambridge Assessment International Education on this site.

In addition to being widely recognized internationally, Cambridge International offers a very high academic standard which is known to equip students with a sound knowledge of their subjects, an ability to apply the subject knowledge, and a high degree of competence in critical thinking. For those studying on their own, there is a wide range of text books and other resources available for the Cambridge International curriculum, both in print and online.

Recognition and university exemption

Students obtaining local certificate options such as the NSC and the IEB NSC will automatically be issued with university exemption by Umalusi. However, students obtaining a foreign certificate like the GED, SAT, and Cambridge International IG and AS/A Levels will need to obtain a certificate of exemption from Universities South Africa (USAf) before being accepted to study at a South African public university. USAf issues exemptions in terms of the Higher Education Act (Act 101 of 1997). No. 1317 dated 5 December 2008. For more information about Universities South Africa you can visit their website.

Possible challenge to these options

The new draft bill which will amend the South African Schools Act of 1996 apparently seeks to limit homeschoolers' choice of certification to only the National Senior Certificate. It is important for as many people as possible (homeschoolers and others) to register their objections to the clause which seeks to impose this limitation. (See the article on the proposed new Education Act for more details).