Teachers slam policy of promoting learners who’ve failed

Following a call by teachers unions the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) for government to scrap or review the progression policy, ZIMASA MATIWANE asked teachers if promoting learners who have failed to the next grade benefits the children.

The progression policy means that a learner can only fail once per phase. (Phases last for three years: grade one to three; grade four to six and so on.) For example, if a learner fails grade one, repeats the year, moves on to grade two, and then fails grade two, they will be pushed up to grade three so that they can stay together with children roughly their age. The idea is that teachers should then support them through the year to catch up with their peers – but this doesn’t always happen. Teachers have warned that the policy hinders learners instead of helping them.

IMG_20150202_113820Fezeka Ralarala, teaching for 27 years, Mount Fletcher Village JSS, Eastern Cape
It is impossible for a learner to do well in a grade they don’t deserve to be in. The policy of progressing students who have failed is not working for both teachers and learners – it should be totally scrapped. When they progress, I work on helping them cope. A low percentage can be helped, but most are demotivated because they struggle more with the next grade’s work than they did when they were supposed to fail. Some students fail because of social factors, but it’s hard for a teacher to fill the content gap of a learner that has been undeservedly progressing. The government makes teachers implement tools; we are never consulted, yet we know what can and can’t work. Some learners’ futures are doomed because of this progression policy. Perhaps it could be optional: some learners and their parents don’t even want this progress without passing thing.

IMG_20150202_105413Nonkosi Yoba, teaching for 30 years, Mount Fletcher Village JSS, Eastern Cape
When a learner repeats a grade they end up understanding – sometimes doing very well – and rightfully progressing to the next class. The progression policy is not working to the advantage of the children: it should be scrapped. When a learner progresses knowing very little, how are they expected to cope in the next grade? I have taught for 30 years and I know older children do bully their younger classmates, but killing their future by sending them to the next grade despite not passing is not a solution. Give an older learner responsibilities in class, make them feel loved and wanted while giving them special attention and working on helping them pass rightfully, it works. Those with learning difficulties have been diagnosed and it’s clear that they will not cope with conventional education. They can progress until they are taken to special schools. Those with no learning difficulties must be left to repeat.

IMG_20150203_103140Mandla Ndaba*, teaching for 12 years, Ramafole SSS, Eastern Cape
I teach English in grade 10 and I can tell you now this thing of promoting undeserving learners is not working for the benefit of students. I have two extreme cases of learners who failed grade nine but were sent to grade 10. They failed last year because they cannot write. I had to start from basics and go back to as far as grade four: spelling and grammar was poor. Our curriculum is results orientated – I have to work on finishing the syllabus in time. How do I do that when I have 76 learners in one class and half of them have been promoted from lower grades without passing? It is practically impossible. A learner is retained in a grade because us teachers know they will not cope in the next grade and we know how to help them progress rightfully, but when they move to the next grade it becomes harder for the next teacher to get them to the same standard as the other learners.

IMG_20150203_103200Luthando Gela*, teaching for 4 years, Ramafole SSS, Eastern Cape
Learners end up with self-esteem issues when they are in a class where they feel lost. When they do not understand a bit of what I am teaching, they become angry, sleep in class, and are disruptive. This happens with learners who have progressed because of age. I teach maths to three classes: that is about 180 learners. Although I teach struggling learners during breaks, it is not sustainable. Most end up not coming to extra classes because they lose hope. Some learners are slow learners. I am trained to teach them – I use all the tricks – but I sometimes fail to help each student. It is strenuous, frustrating and is not good for the future of these children. Some end up leaving school altogether. I would rather the government provides alternatives where children will learn skills when the gap in academics become too much to fill.

IMG_20150202_121209Nothando Yenziwe*, teaching for 21 years, Matshoane SP, Eastern Cape
The policy must be removed totally. Learners must get a good foundation in lower grades: if the learner misses that foundation there is no way they will catch up. The government must start consulting with parents and teachers – information to improve education must come from the bottom up. It’s hard for teachers. I divide the class into two. I have to go back with the ones who lack – in grade five I have to go back to grade one work. The deserving learners will definitely suffer because I have to concentrate more on the lacking learners. There is no support from the government; the government does not cater for such learners. We are just told what to do, there is no extra support, and you are on your own. My aim is to see all these learners succeed, but they end up dropping out. A child in grade five who cannot spell their name will definitely feel like they are wasting time. It’s not for the benefit of the children. It’s frustrating – even to learners – being a misfit academically. This policy is not good for the future of South Africa.

* Names have been changed.

– All images: by Zimasa Matiwane.

  1. aashiq says

    is this policy still going or has it been reviewed and changed?

  2. Makhubo Julia says

    I can understand if the learner is not doing well at all and pushing him won’t help. But you get children who struggle with languages because they really don’t really have a first language but they are expected to pass one language as a home language and if they don’t get level 4 they will fail and remain behind even though they are doing well in all other subjects. Children get discaraged and drop out of school.

  3. Thabang Khoeli says

    I have a case in which a child passed all subjects but only failed English in a 2,3,3 & 2. I really dont believe in such results, because the child wrote all subjects in English. He/she should perform poorly in the rest because English is his problem.

  4. Andiswa says

    I would like to know about the child who passed his/ her subjects and failed the 2nd language that is a foreign to him/ her and she is very new in learning the language, yet the child is able to obtain at least code 2 instead of code3. Should the child repeat the level because of the 2nd language that is foreign or should appeal. I really need to know.



  6. d yule says

    I am a retired teacher and I agree 100% with the teachers who are against “progressing” learners who have not passed. Allow learners who fail a year to repeat the year. If possible give them extra tutoring to help them to catch up. If they fail again, perhaps they are not academically inclined and should find a different route to follow.

  7. Kefilwe says

    Good day, I would like to ask, what happens to a child who passed all subjects very well and only obtained 45% for home language. Does that mean that child has to repeat that grade?

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