An educated guess
DOE can’t say how many Grade 11s are failing
EACH YEAR SOUTH AFRICA’S matric pass rate is used as a stick with which to beat the Department of Education (DOE). However, critics may find more potent ammunition in the form of Grade 11 pass rates.
Statistics from the DOE show that each year there’s a massive drop in the number of learners who progress from Grade 11 to Grade 12. In fact the average fall in the number of Grade 11 learners entering Grade 12 between 1999 and 2006 comes to 32,26%. Though this seems to indicate that vast numbers of learners are simply not progressing to Grade 12, the Department of Education has no idea whether or not this is indeed the case.
Willie Venter of the DOE’s Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) department says the pass rate of Grade 11 learners is simply not available at a national level. “We only have data for Grade 12s and will only begin keeping records on Grade 11s from this year, once the new curriculum is phased in.”
Louis Kriel of the DOE says that because the provinces administer Grades 10 and 11 examinations, the national Department does not keep records of the pass rates for these grades. However, he does agree that the large difference in the number of Grade 11s compared to Grade 12s seems to indicate that many students are either being held back or are dropping out altogether.
“Because the Grade 12 pass rates are used as a yardstick to measure a school’s performance, it’s probable that headmasters are holding back borderline students so as not to spoil the final pass rate figures,” he says.
Another interesting trend is the difference in learner numbers between Grade 1 and Grade 2. A similar drop-off in the number of learners entering Grade 2 also appears to indicate that a fairly large percentage of Grade 1 learners are not coping with the rigours of first year primary education.
Statistics between 1999 and 2006 show that on average 13,44% fewer learners enter Grade 2 than those who start Grade 1.
Again it’s by no means certain that this is due to learners being held back as the DOE cannot say what the Grade 1 failure rate is.
Says Christo Lombard of the DOE’s Examinations Directorate: “There’s no directorate within the DOE that has that kind of information as it’s never needed.”
Lombard also told Finweek that the DOE “only looks at school exit points”.
“We don’t keep pass rates by grade as schools don’t really conduct examinations at primary school level anymore,” says Lombard.
“There are over 27 000 schools in the coun- try and there’s no mechanism to assess pass rates by standard on a national basis other than those for Grade 12.”
“Also, a school can only recommend to a parent that a student be held back but ultimately it’s up to the parents to decide whether or not they take that advice.”
This is also symptomatic of the fact that there are no nationally determined standards at primary school level to determine whether or not a learner should pass or fail.
“At primary school level, progression from one grade to another depends on the school,” says Cynthia Vakudze of the UCT Education Department’s Schools Development Unit.
Children are also not required to write formal tests to assess their ability.
“Tests are no longer used to assess learners at primary school level,” says Kaashief Hassan, an education specialist at the UCT Schools Development Unit. “Learners are assessed through observation rather than formal testing and it’s more skills-based than knowledge based. In other words learners have to demonstrate that they can apply what they have learnt practically rather than show that they can retain knowledge.”
This form of assessment forms part of the controversial outcomes based education model adopted by the Department of Education.
Far more disturbing though is that Hassan says the interpretation of standards set by the new curriculum differs radically from school to school.
“The curriculum uses various assessment benchmarks to assess learner capability but schools interpret these benchmarks quite differently,” says Hassan. “For example, some schools regard these benchmarks as the minimum requirements to assess a learner while other schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, will strive only to fulfil these standards. They seldom strive to attain anything above and beyond those levels.”