South Africa: MEC Debbie SchA�fer On Circular By Basic Education

The circular issued by the Department of Basic Education right at the end of the school year raises a number of concerns.

Firstly, one could perhaps understand the rationale for condoning the Grade 9’s who would pass, if it were not for their maths mark. It is also not uncommon to allow condonations in cases where a higher pass mark has recently been introduced into the system – as has been done with DBE’s recent raising of the maths pass mark from 30% to 40%.

However, if the reason for learners not passing this year is because the DBE raised the bar to pass, why are they being allowed to pass with 20%? They should then have been condoned only if they achieved 30% – the previous threshold for passing.

Secondly, I fail to understand the rationale for condoning a maths failure in Grades 7 and 8, especially at 20%. At least in Grade 9 the learner has the option to take Maths Literacy until matric. In grades 7 and 8, they will be permitted to progress to Grades 8 and 9, where they will still have to take Mathematics as a subject until the end of Grade 9. How can a learner who achieves 20% be expected to pass Maths the following year or two?

The DBE has said in a statement that this condonation is only for this year. Given the above, I seriously doubt that. What is their plan for improving the Maths of the condoned Grade 7’s and 8’s? If there is not drastic action taken, we will be sitting in the same position next year.

The circular does not address the REAL problem, and that is that we simply do not have sufficient good Maths teachers in South Africa. What we need is high-impact interventions to train teachers and bring the best possible resources to our learners. In the Western Cape we are trying to do this with our e-learning programme, which can improve access to online resources to assist teachers and learners. We need to do more of this.

The other problem with this circular is that it is sending the message that Maths is not that important, and that it does not matter if you work hard or not – if you don’t know the work, you will simply be pushed up to the next grade anyway.

It shows that our maths is in ICU. And that has devastating consequences for South Africa. A large majority of scarce skills we need in South Africa require Maths. If we do not get this right, we will not make inroads into either reducing our unemployment rate or increasing our economic growth.

I will be writing to Min Motshekga to ask that this matter be discussed at the first CEM meeting next year and that an urgent intervention needs to be found to address the root cause of this problem – inadequate teaching.

It does not help trying to aim for better marks by increasing the pass percentage, which is admirable, and then not only condoning failure to achieve the higher pass percentage but condoning it at 10% below what it was before.

This is simply putting a band aid on a patient in ICU and will result in the death of our economy if we do not do something urgently to fix it.

Source: Western Cape Education

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