Pupils under the age of 10 years could soon “cruise through” their foundation phase without repeating a grade, if the new “learner progression” plan being mooted by the Department of Basic Education goes ahead.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga recently said in Parliament that expert opinion suggested it was not beneficial for pupils in the lower grades, between the ages of 6 and 10, to repeat a grade.
Pupils from grades 1 to 4 could be beneficiaries of the proposal if it’s implemented.
The Basic Education Department already has a policy in place on the progression of pupils which states that pupils cannot repeat a phase more than once.
Education experts, although divided on the wisdom of the proposal, agreed that more emphasis should be placed on the quality of education in the classrooms.
When tabling her budget for the 2018-19 financial year recently, Motshekga told Parliament that experts said making pupils in the foundation phase repeat their grades was harmful and served no purpose.
Speaking on the priorities of the department for this financial year, Motshekga said: “The first focus area is the review of our progression and promotion policies, especially in the lower grades.
“A number of education experts have opined on this matter, and the overwhelming message is that it does not make any educational sense to make young children aged six to 10 years repeat a grade.
“According to the experts, the children who repeat, on the whole, gain absolutely nothing.
“On the contrary, for many affected children, repetition is a powerful early signal of failure – a signal that lasts through the individual’s life,” she said.
Motshekga said she was also concerned about grades nine to 11, as there was a high rate of pupils repeating, and high drop-out rates.
Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, Ursula Hoadley, agreed with Motshekga, saying pupils who repeated a grade did not gain anything by repeating.
However, she said she was not sure about the psychological impact that the children could suffer at that age.
“I am not sure if that is the strongest argument to be made,” Hoadley said.
She said it was important for the department to focus on the quality of teachers and the support they were given.
“The teachers could assess the learners (learning progress) through ability grading.”
She warned that focusing on whether pupils should repeat a grade was deflecting from the important issue of the quality of learning being offered in the classroom.
She said one of the problems in the education system was the large drop-out rate.
“About 50% or so of learners that start Grade 1 do not finish.”
Professor Labby Ramrathan, of the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it did not make sense to progress pupils without checking whether they were ready for the next grade.
“The focus should be on what the learners should have learned in those grades, and whether that was achieved.”
He said by progressing pupils who were not ready, huge problems were created.
“For instance, if you progress a learner from Grade 3 to Grade 4, and that learner is not ready, it means the teacher in Grade 4 will have to teach what should have been taught in Grade 3, and there’s just no time for that.”
Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga recently told The Mercury that the department’s current policy on pupil progression was producing excellent results.
“If you look at learners that have been progressed from Grade 11 to Grade 12, they do very well. Some of them even get distinctions,” Mhlanga said.
He added that it was important for parents and the school to provide pupils with the necessary support.