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Durban - The impact of a new government education policy that says no pupil may fail more than once during the last three years of school and must be allowed to write matric, will be felt for the first time by the class of 2014.
Principals, academics and teachers unions have expressed incredulity at the policy and called for it to be scrapped. Some have gone as far as to call it “crazy”, saying floundering pupils will suffer.
The move, by the national Department of Basic Education, was implemented last year, and is part of broader guidelines that stipulate that no child may repeat a grade more than once during a schooling “phase”.
The phases are Grades R to 3; Grades 4 to 6; Grades 7 to 9; and Grades 10 to 12, which is known as the further education and training phase.
“If you haven’t passed Grade 11, what chance do you have of passing matric?” asked a South Coast principal, who is not permitted to speak to the media and who, for this reason, remains anonymous.
“There is no ethic of learning, and you end up with unmotivated learners because you don’t ever have to pass. Now any learner can advance to matric.”
The principal said the policy had a negative effect on teachers and pupils.
“I would rather call the parents and discuss the failure with them. Some kids need to be kept back as it is in their best interests,” a Durban school principal said, adding that if a pupil could not pass Grades 10 and 11, their skill set in understanding and interpreting work was not at the level required to pass matric.
“The policy is absolutely crazy.”
A KwaMashu principal said such “policies” had made pupils disinterested in working hard.
“I’ve been teaching for a long time, but wonder how teachers come in and teach children who they know won’t put any energy into passing. Pupils will not be bothered, because they, too, will know about this policy sooner or later,” he said.
Professor Labby Ramrathan, from the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the national policy benefited no one in the education system.
“I don’t think it is a good policy, it is a mess,” he said.
“The department has put this policy in place to stop the schools keeping back Grade 11s they think will fail matric the following year and affect their matric pass rate.
“Clearly it is the wrong response,” he said.
Ramrathan said that if children were not coping in Grade 10 or 11, a career guidance counsellor was the best person to advise the pupil what alternatives were available.
“Unfortunately, guidance counsellors were removed from schools, and only if pupils experience trauma are counsellors made available.”
National Teachers Union (Natu) deputy president Allen Thompson said the only reason the government was implementing the free pass policy was to save money.
“They are concentrating on the financial point of view when pushing through a child. As a result, there will be an underperformance in matric,” said Thompson.
A pupil’s spending an additional year in a grade meant the department would have to foot the bill.
The union voiced its dissatisfaction with the policy last month, threatening the Department of Education that its members would not comply if it was not amended.
The Mercury’s sister paper, the Cape Times, recently reported on the push-through policy in the Western Cape, where 3 269 pupils advanced to Grade 12 this year despite having failed Grade 11. Some had obtained only 6 percent for certain subjects.
The Kwazulu-Natal Department of Education was unable to say how many Grade 11 pupils had been pushed through to Grade 12 this year.
Provincial department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said at the time of Natu’s initial disagreement that the rule was a national policy and not unique to KZN.
“The department applies this policy only if a learner does not meet all the requirements for progression, but shows potential,” said Mahlambi.