Lure of elite high schools in SA

St Andrew’s College Pipe band. Students in the elite schools get to participate in a wide range of extra curricular activities.   Photo | Courtesy
St Andrew’s College Pipe band. Students in the elite schools get to participate in a wide range of extra curricular activities. Photo | Courtesy  

Most 16-year-olds do not pack up their bags to move to a new country and school without their parents to pursue education.
But Craig Odhiambo did this when he joined St John’s College in Johannesburg for his A-levels, which he sat last year.

After sitting his ‘O’ -level exams at St Andrew’s Turi, in Molo, Craig set out for the new adventure in his life which he described as a maturing experience.
“Going to a new school and new country at such a young and impressionable age, you have no option but to mature if you want to make it in life,” he says.

Exclusive schools

He is among a growing number of Kenyan students who opting to join exclusive private high schools in South Africa to pursue the South African National Senior Certificate, Matriculation, or A-levels in the hope joining elite South African University or proceeding to other universities in the UK, US or Australia.

The South African High Commission says most Kenyans attend St John’s College on the outskirts of Johannesburg, St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown, Abbots College which has five campuses across the country and Rosebank College with a campus in Cape Town.

St John’s College, Craig’s alma mater, is recognised as one of the leading boarding private school in South Africa. Located in Johannesburg, Kenyan students mainly attend the school to pursue the Cambridge A-level system, and a co-educational facility. It is especially popular with those who do their ‘O’ levels at St Andrew’s Turi.

The school boasts top-notch facilities including restaurants, four pools, a gymnasium and fields for different sports.

Craig, who describes the architecture as out of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School, says two years proved to be a “humbling” journey that taught him responsibility and the importance of putting one’s head down to do the work.

Toni Williams, the schools marketing manager, says the school offers a university approach so that students can broaden their academic and intellectual perspectives as they prepare for university studies anywhere in the world.

Craig, who says there were about six other Kenyans in his year, is looking to pursue a law degree in London or University of Edinburg.

Most of these schools offer an atmosphere which is less restrictive than high school where the students are encouraged to cope with greater personal responsibilities and freedom.

Tracy Wamucii, who attended Rosebank Progressive College, in Cape Town, says the system allows for more independence compared to studying in Kenya, where she did her KCSE at State House Girls.

“You are shown what you are meant to do so it is all up to you to do it,” she said. “The education system there is more of a partnership between the students and teachers, who guide you but do not spoon feed you.”

Tracy completed her one-year Matric at the college last year and is waiting to join the University of Cape Town in February to pursue a BA in social science and economics.

Elite South African Schools have identified Kenya as a hunting ground for students and visit the country often, either by giving talks in other private schools or hiring representatives who market the schools locally.

St Andrew’s Turi

Craig learnt about the school when representatives from St John’s visited St Andrews Turi to give a talk on their A-level programme.

St Andrew’s College, in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape and adjacent to Rhodes University, has also welcomed Kenyan students through its doors looking to do their Cambridge A-levels.

The school, just like St John’s College, boasts a rich history of over 100 years with strict uniform regulations and curriculums that focus on academics, sports and nurturing students’ talents.

In November 2011, St Andrew’s College representatives were in Kenya to meet current parents.

The team also held two marketing events as part of its strategy to attract more students from Kenya, said the school’s marketing and communications manager, Cherie Willie, on email.

“We have a good number of Kenya students at St Andrew’s College and The Diocesan School for Girls, here in Grahamstown,” she said in an email.

Grahamstown is a small college community and also home to Kingswood College, which also offers Cambridge A-levels. Students from Kingswood and St Andrew’s often join Rhodes University.

Education in high end schools South Africa is viewed as being more affordable compared to the UK, US, Australia or Canada.


Jane Mukiri, whose three children have done Matric in South Africa, says she found education in South Africa cheaper compared to Europe or the US. Her son attended Damelin College,(now Rosebank) while her two daughters were in Abbots College where they did their SA national examinations after completing their KCSE.

“The fees have gone up since my son first went there but it is still more manageable compared to other countries,” she said.

Andries van Renssen, principle of Abbotts College - Pretoria East Campus – says from his discussions with the principals of the schools he visited, many Kenyan students want to study at other international universities with many opting for the UK, US or Australia.

“In these countries the cost is double what it will cost in South Africa due to the exchange rate,” he said in an email interview.
He was in the country in October last year visiting different schools - those offering the 8-4-4 system and British curriculum – as part of setting up ties with the local institutions and attracting more students.

Abbotts College has five campuses across South Africa and has increased its marketing activities in Kenya. Andries says in the last two years the campus has had six students each year and they expect the numbers to increase “since we are now actively involved in Kenya.”

He has also hired a local representative to help market the school locally.

Rosebank College, Tracy’s alma matter, has hired Shiru Githiomi to market the school in the country. As one of the first students to attend the Cape Town based College in 1996, Shiru was in the country in November to talk to parents and prospective students.

“South Africa presents a good option both in terms of price and quality of education.”


Shiru says the matriculation year costs about Sh1.2 million, inclusive of fees, accommodation, food and pocket money.

Boarding fees at both St Andrew’s and St John’s is about R156,600 (Sh1.71 million) with each charging extra fees that can be as high as R4,200 (Sh46,200) per term, according to their websites. Kingswood charges R138,300 (Sh1.52 million) boarding fees per annum, excluding additional fees that can be up to R9,500 (Sh104,500) according to its website.

These fees exclude some extra-curriculum activities such as sports, music and cultural events that attract additional costs. Student who stay in school over mid-term also pay an extra cost.

Unlike St Andrew’s and St John’s, Abbots and Rosebank Colleges do not offer boarding facilities.

They offer hostels near the campuses, but sometimes parents and students have to source for alternative accommodation.

KCSE is more or less equivalent to Grade 11 in South Africa and students wishing to join a South African University are expected to do the one year, grade 12 or Matric.

The SA education system has a similar calendar to the Kenyan one making it ideal for students to join in the beginning of the year after sitting their KCSE.

Student who go through the British system mainly join South African schools after their O-Levels to study for the Cambridge A-level before proceeding to a South African University if they so prefer or go on to another country.