The government’s grand move to have “progressed” matric pupils write their exams over two years has bombed – only 8% passed
The results of these pupils, who were pushed into matric after failing grade 11 more than once, were disclosed to the Sunday Times by the department of basic education last week.
SA’s latest matric pass rate is 8%. It was achieved by “progressed” pupils — those pushed into grade 12 after failing grade 11 more than once — and who were given two years to write matric.
Of the 78,363 of these pupils who wrote their final school exams in November and June, 6,320 passed.
Education experts who spoke to the Sunday Times this week said the pupils had been set up for failure because the plan was based on an incorrect assumption that a lowered workload would lead to better results.
Professor Labby Ramrathan of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the progressed pupils had “conceptual difficulties in knowing and understanding the subject content”, and required a different teaching approach.
Basic education department spokesman, Elijah Mhlanga, said these learners’ performance “cannot be looked at in terms of percentages, but must be looked at in the context of the number of candidates that were rescued from being labelled as just another drop-out”.
Education experts this week blamed the shocking results on the lack of support provided to progressed pupils by schools and provincial education departments.
The pupils wrote some of their papers in November and the remainder in June through a system known as the multiple examination opportunity.
It is offered to progressed pupils who fail a minimum of three subjects in their preparatory exam at school.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced in March that the two-year system will be scrapped from next year as some schools were deliberately encouraging pupils to opt for this route instead of writing the full exam at one go.
She said the system was being used by some schools as a “gatekeeping mechanism and not for its original intentions”.
Some pupils did not even complete all their remaining papers in the second set of exams. Of the 88,828 candidates who sat for three or more subjects in November, only 78,363 completed the rest of their papers in June. A total of 260 of those who passed obtained admission to bachelor studies.
Professor Labby Ramrathan, of the School of Education at the University of KwaZuluNatal, labelled the progression policy “a cosmetic intervention” and called for it to be scrapped. “It is setting up pupils for failure. False hope through forced progression to these pupils impacts negatively on their selfesteem, especially when they fail despite the concessions given to them.”
He said to progress pupils “does not address the underlying problem. Lowering the workload for writing a full set of exam papers by progressed pupils is an incorrect asBy sumption. They have conceptual difficulties in knowing and understanding the subject content and therefore even writing one paper at a time will not make any material difference to the pass rate.”
He said pupils instead needed to be provided with curriculum support, learning opportunities, coaching and counselling.
Ramrathan’s colleague, Professor Wayne Hugo, said that while he had no issue with the progression policy, there were no support structures to help struggling pupils.
“Our teachers are pushed by a fast-paced CAPS [curriculum and assessment policy statement] curriculum and teachers cannot take extra time to explain and assist those who are struggling. If you can’t cope, then you fall behind, get progressed, fail a little and then get progressed again, until we get to the final exit point where all the inefficiencies of the system come home to roost.”
Professor Felix Maringe, head of the School of Education at Wits University, said content coverage appeared to be the main aim of teaching in schools while understanding, application and critical analysis were not prioritised.
“Doing fewer subjects gives progressed learners more time … and enhances their chances of achieving decent grades. But the fact that this does not happen simply means the strategy represents a tragic misdiagnosis of pupils’ difficulties.”
He said too much focus was on introducing short-term measures and “ultimately deceiving society by parading high pass rates. It’s the ultimate window-dressing act that conceals deep-seated and unresolved problems of ineffective teaching and learning.”
Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schafer admitted that a number of provincial education departments, including hers, had not provided adequate support to progressed pupils.
“The idea was they should be given specific interventions if they were progressed to the next grade to ensure they were brought up to speed. But that’s where the system has failed completely. It has just not happened.”
However, basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department commended the 6,320 candidates who passed.
“A total of 26,442 learners who failed grade 11 in 2017 were progressed and finally obtained the NSC [national senior certificate]. This is confirmation that progressed learners with the appropriate support can succeed. The notion that these learners are being set up for failure is furthest from the truth.”
If you can’t cope, then you fall behind, get progressed, fail a little and then get progressed again Professor Wayne Hugo School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal