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In South Africa, education is divided into four bands: Foundation Phase (grades 1–3), Intermediate Phase (grades 4–6), Senior Phase (grades 7–9), and the Further Education and Training or FET Phase (grades 10–12). However, because this division is newer than most schools in the country, in practice, learners progress through three different types of school: primary school (grades 1–3), junior school (grades 4–7), and high school (grades 8–12). After the FET phase, learners who pursue further studies typically take three or four years to obtain an undergraduate degree or one or two years to achieve a vocational diploma or certificate. The number of years spent in university varies as different courses of study take different numbers of years. Those in the last year of high school (Grade 12) are referred to as 'Matrics' or are in 'Matric' and take the Grade 12 examinations accredited by the Umalusi Council (the South African board of education) in October and November of their Matric year. Exam papers are set and administered nationally through the National Department of Basic Education for government schools, while many (but not all) private school Matrics sit for exams set by the Independent Education Board (IEB), which operates with semi-autonomy under the requirements of Umalusi. (The assessment and learning requirements of both IEB and National exams are of roughly the same standard. The perceived better performance of learners within the IEB exams is largely attributable to their attending private, better-resourced schools with the much lower teacher: learner ratios and class sizes rather than because of fundamental differences in assessment or learning content). A school year for the majority of schools in South Africa runs from January to December, with holidays dividing the year into terms. Most public or government schools are 4-term schools and most private schools are 3-term school, but the 3-term government or public schools and 4-term private schools are not rare.

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