From CAPS to Cambridge and everything in between

5 min read   •   September 21, 2023
Elmien Ackerman

When homeschooling or joining an online school in South Africa, there are several curriculums to choose from, each with its own unique features and benefits. We explore and compare the different options to help you make this critical choice regarding your child’s education.

What is a curriculum?

Let’s start with the basics. A curriculum is a structured plan or framework that outlines what students should learn during their educational journey. Curriculums also serve as roadmaps for educators and facilitators, guiding them on what to teach and how to assess the learner’s progress.

Assessment bodies in SA

Before diving into the curriculum options, it’s essential to understand the different assessment bodies. Umalusi is the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training in South Africa. Umalusi oversees three central assessment bodies, namely:

  • The Department of Basic Education (DBE)
  • The Independent Examination Board (IEB)
  • The South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACAI)


Assessment bodies in SA


CAPS, or the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement, is the curriculum framework developed by the DBE and is the most widely used curriculum in public schools across South Africa. CAPS is also used by alternative education providers such as Impaq.

The curriculum aims to provide all learners with access to quality education. CAPS covers essential subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Languages, and Social Sciences and focuses on providing a solid foundation of knowledge and skills across various disciplines.


  • CAPS is aligned with South African educational needs and context.
  • CAPS promotes a consistent standard of quality education.
  • Term and exam dates are aligned to the South African school year.
  • Learners receive their National Senior Certificate (also known as a matric certificate) from Umalusi at the end of Grade 12.


  • Limited flexibility for educators to adapt the curriculum to learners’ individual needs.

A common misconception about CAPS is that it is inferior to the other curriculums. The reality, however, is that CAPS is not inherently less comprehensive. Many learners who successfully complete their NSC go on to study at top local universities or abroad.


A common misconception is that the IEB is a separate curriculum. The IEB, however, refers to an independent assessment body. The way assessments are conducted by the IEB differs from the way in which assessments are conducted by the DBE or SACAI.

The IEB offers assessments and examinations for various school subjects, including arts and sciences. Many private or independent schools in South Africa offer these assessments. After completing Grade 12, learners who wrote the IEB examination also receive a National Senior Certificate from Umalusi, the same matric certificate received by learners completing CAPS.


  • Emphasises critical thinking, research skills, and independent learning.
  • Allows for a degree of flexibility in subject choices.
  • Offers a well-rounded education with a strong focus on holistic development.
  • Learners receive their NSC from Umalusi at the end of Grade 12.


  • Generally associated with private schools, which can come with higher fees.
  • Assessment standards can be demanding, leading to higher expectations.

The IEB assessments are based on the Subject Assessment Guidelines (SAG), which differ from what is required in CAPS but still have their foundation in the CAPS curriculum.

Also read: Choose the best home education curriculum provider for your child: Here’s how


Cambridge is a stand-alone international curriculum that is monitored by Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE). The curriculum emphasises a flexible and inquiry-based approach to learning, encouraging learners to become independent thinkers. To complete Grade 12, learners must pass with a combination of AS and A levels.


  • Encourages analytical and critical thinking.
  • Provides a wide range of subjects and electives.


  • Can be intensive and demanding, potentially leading to high levels of stress.
  • Not necessarily aligned with local South African contexts.

Cambridge is perceived as a challenging curriculum, often associated with international study. However, universities prioritise meeting entry requirements over curriculum choice.


The General Educational Development (GED) curriculum is an alternative pathway to a high school diploma. It focuses on essential skills and knowledge necessary for adult life and further education. The term GED is a registered trademark of the American Council on Education (ACE) and includes a series of tests in key subject areas. 


  • This is a flexible option for those seeking a diploma equivalent later in life.
  • The curriculum allows for self-paced study with resources available.


  • Many universities in South Africa do not recognise the GED.
  • It may not provide the same depth of knowledge as traditional curriculums.

A common misconception about the GED is that it is an easy alternative to a traditional high school education. However, the GED is not as highly regarded as the other curriculums.

Post high school pathways

For learners who followed CAPS or completed the IEB assessments, a world of opportunities awaits once they have their NSC. The NSC is accepted by most tertiary universities in South Africa and abroad. Read more about what determines whether your learner can pursue their tertiary studies here.

If your child opts for the Cambridge curriculum, the IGCSE, AS Level, and A Levels are recognised locally by the South African Matriculation Board for entrance into South African universities and pave the way for international university applications. Keep in mind that acceptance is not automatic and that specific subject prerequisites may apply.

GED graduates cannot pursue a degree at a South African university but can explore higher certificates and diploma courses. The GED certificate is recognised in the United States and some international institutions.

No one curriculum is universally better or more challenging than the others. Each curriculum has pros and cons, so assessing what aligns best with your child’s strengths, interests, and future goals is essential.