No re­peats plan for pupils un­der 10

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - Thami Magubane

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.”

Progress

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.

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