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Durban - Technical schools that cater to the needs of non-academic pupils need to be re-started.
This was the reaction of concerned educationists on Wednesday on hearing news of a new regulation from the Basic Education Department that allows pupils to be failed only once between grades 10 and 12.
They also said Further Education and Training Colleges had to be whipped into shape if the proposal by the government becomes policy.
The school system was not able to offer struggling pupils the specialised and individual attention they needed to be able eventually to earn a National Senior Certificate, they said on Wednesday.
Basil Manuel, the president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said the most obvious impact would be on the matric pass rate.
More pupils who were not Grade 12-ready would be joining the matric group, resulting in a decline in the overall quality of National Senior Certificate passes and a spike in the number of pupils who failed this final hurdle.
The regulation, published in the Government Gazette in December by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, states that pupils who repeat either Grade 10 or 11 must receive support to enable them to proceed to the next grade the following year.
However, it does not guarantee struggling Grade 12 pupils an automatic pass.
“And what about the child?” Manuel asked. “A child who is bumped through to matric will always feel inadequate. The regulation is the wrong solution to the problem. We need to find a niche for children who are not academic. Further Education and Training Colleges are not fulfilling this gap.”
There was a “mindset” in the country that children had to have a Grade 12 certificate, he said.
“That’s what every mother wants for her child. But our FET colleges are a disaster zone. The pass rates are shocking. But this also gives us the opportunity to ask why our technical schools, where pupils could pursue woodwork or mechanics, have fallen by the wayside.”
Manuel also questioned what measures the department was going to put in place to support the Grade 12 teachers tasked with assisting struggling pupils.
national head of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, Paul Colditz, said the proposed policy came from “sophisticated, well-developed and well-resourced Western systems”.
In these ideal contexts, teacher-pupil ratios were 1:25, and as low as 1:15, and there was no shortage of educational therapists and psychologists, which meant pupils who were lagging behind could get individual and specialised attention.
“In our circumstances, class sizes in primary schools are normally 1:40, and in secondary schools 1:35. Many teachers in our schools are still un- or under-qualified,” Colditz said.
It was pupils who stood to lose the most, he said.
“They may develop a false sense of thinking that they may pass the NSC exam.”
“Thousands of learners enter the FET phase (grades 10 to 12) with a huge disadvantage in terms of the basic knowledge and skills required to complete an academic schooling career successfully.
“It is unfair and unrealistic to expect teachers to “save” the education of learners who do not have the necessary competence to even begin to understand and accomplish what is required of them in the FET phase,” Colditz said.
He suggested that schools assess pupils at Grade 9, and that they then be encouraged rather to enrol at FET colleges if their competencies and capabilities showed they were not likely to benefit from an academic education.