Low performing learners in gr. 4 and gr. 9 must be helped to succeed again this year – probably because the Covid-19 pandemic is still having an effect on the South African education system. In extreme cases, learners can be promoted to the next grade, even if they have not passed a single subject.
In a national circular that the department sent out at the end of October, it is argued that point adjustments that have been in effect since 2020 should be applied again this year. These measures were initially intended to mitigate the effect of the pandemic, which resulted in schools being closed for months.
This will mean that learners can fail many of their subjects – even if the pass requirement is only 40% – and still be transferred to the next grade.
“Through various research initiatives, the department has determined that the learning backlogs caused by the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic still persist in the system,” says the circular. “That is why the special points adjustments and condonation that were in effect last year must be applied again this year.”
Moreover, the measures are not only applicable this year, but must be applied “in the following years”, until the national curriculum is revised. It is not certain when such a review will be made.
The current pass requirements are 50% for home language, 40% for first additional language and 40% for mathematics. Learners must have at least 40% for three more subjects and 30% for two more subjects. Learners who do not meet these requirements must have their marks adjusted by 5% in three subjects to achieve more than 40% (or 50% in the case of a home language). Subjects for which a learner achieved less than 30% may not have their marks adjusted. However, the latter only applies to gr. 7-, gr. 8 and gr. 9 learners.
If these adjustments have been made but a learner still does not pass, because he or she fails mathematics by more than 5%, he or she may be transferred to the next grade.
Learners in gr. 4 to gr. 6 can also still be transferred “with support”, even if they do not pass a single subject, if the principal and teachers make a professional judgment that the learner may be transferred to the next grade.
According to the letter, learners who do not have mathematics in gr. 9 have not passed, nor be prohibited from doing mathematics in gr. 10 not to take.
Melanie Buys, head of development at Solidarity’s School Support Center (SSC), says that helping learners through in this way is not conducive to education. “Even if Covid-19 still has an impact, we are not going to solve the problem like this. On the contrary, we only create a bigger problem for when learners get to the higher grades.”
She says research shows that arrears can be corrected much faster and cheaper if they are attended to at an early age. “Otherwise it has a snowball effect on learners’ academic ability in the long run.”
She says the very first thing that must happen is that standardized tests must be written by the bank at the beginning of the year. “Only when you know where the problem is can you take targeted steps to address it.”
Basil Manuel, head of the teachers’ union Naptosa, says it is the case that the arrears created due to the pandemic have not yet been caught up. This is largely due to the gaps in the system that were already present before the pandemic. “Some teachers have to try to teach as many as 65 learners at once. These teachers don’t even try to pretend that they succeed in this anymore.”
He says that because the South African school system is so diverse, the same solution cannot work for everyone. “However, we will have to find another long-term solution, rather than putting learners through. This creates a false impression with children and parents about learners’ real abilities and puts further pressure on the system.”