Is the government really dropping pass rates for grades 7, 8, and 9?

Education experts are sceptical of a department of basic education (DBE) proposal to lower the pass rates for grades 7, 8 and 9 to “align” them with grades 10, 11 and 12.

The proposed passing requirements for the senior phase are:

  • Pass four subjects at 40%, one of which is a home language;
  • Pass any other four subjects at 30%; and
  • Maths is removed as a compulsory promotion requirement.

On Tuesday, DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said in a statement that the changes in grades 7, 8 and 9 (the senior phase) needed to be aligned with those in grades 10, 11 and 12, known as the further education and training (FET) phase. Requirements for the FET phase were amended in 2015 after 2014 pass rates decreased dramatically.

A department task team appointed to investigate poor curriculum implementation found that the new Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), introduced in 2011, had lowered pass rates in the higher grades. But these amendments to the pass rate were not applied to other grades. This means that currently, the required pass rates for the senior phase are higher than for the FET phase.

The education department is looking to eventually align the requirements across the board – but is presently focusing on the senior phase. “You can’t change one part and not the other,” Mhlanga said in an interview on Power FM on Tuesday. This move would not aim to increase the number of passes, he said, but rather to balance the system.

However, Professor Ruksana Osman, dean of humanities and professor of education at Wits University, told The Daily Vox that while alignment is important for good educational policy, she is unsure about lowering the pass rates.

“If mathematics is hard for learners and you lower the marks saying learners are not going to need mathematics in their lives, that’s problematic. It’s not looking at trying to improve the quality of teaching or teacher development in the areas where students are struggling. You’re taking it for granted that learners can’t do it and if they can’t do it then the only way out is to drop the requirements, saying the rationale is for alignment purposes,” she said.

Osman also said formal workplaces require some form of mathematics, as it is the basis for logical and analytical thinking, which are required across the work spectrum.

“Potentially, this [amendment] is a problem because it means we expect less from our students and it means the students would underperform,” Osman said.

Ayesha Dildar, an FET English teacher at a Johannesburg secondary school also disapproved of the proposed amendment. “You’re lowering the bar to 30%-40%, how much do the kids know? Thirty percent? It means the kids are only going to work for that 30%-40%,” she said. Dildar added that these marks do not qualify learners to enter tertiary institutions.

Speaking on Power FM on Tuesday, Florence Modipa, the chief education specialist for curriculum policy at the education department, said South Africa’s curriculum is comparable internationally. The amendments, she said, are aimed at improving quality, efficiency and inclusivity in the system.

The department plans to hold a broad consultation process with experts, parents and members of the public, to discuss the amendments. It has urged concerned individuals to take part in the public consultation processes and write to them with any suggestions on the matter.

Featured image via Flickr