South Africa’s education system is in dire need of transformation, and according to the Department of Basic Education, 10 to 20 percent of our kids repeat Grade 1.
So when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga proposed earlier this year that there would be no repeat policy for Grades R to 3, education experts were stumped.
One of those experts is human potential and parenting thought leader, Nikki Bush. Since the announcement was made, Bush has been campaigning tirelessly to put a pause on the process. Her Facebook page (@NikkiBushSpeaker) has been a hive of activity with concerned parents and educators voicing their concern, while her various radio and television appearances have undoubtedly put a spotlight on the importance of Foundation Phase learning and the dire consequences of not repeating a year.
Even some of SA’s most outspoken intellectuals like Prof Jonathan Jansen and Dr Marion Joseph, head of teacher development at NAPTOSA, have strongly voiced their opposition to the proposal.
“The department’s proposed quick fix solution to this looming problem that is, as you can imagine, causing a logistical bottleneck in the system, is to implement a no repeat or automatic progression policy for the Foundation Phase,” said Bush.
While presenting a report at a sub committee meeting, director-general of the Department of Basic Education, Dr M Simelane, noted that the reasoning behind it is that “a number of education experts have given opinions on this matter, and the overwhelming message is that it does not make any educational sense to make young children, aged 6 to 10 years, to repeat a grade”. According to these unnamed experts, children who repeat, on the whole, gain absolutely nothing.
What Bush finds very baffling is that the policy change has not been widely publicised by the Department of Education. “It’s been kept fairly tight, and we’re not too sure why,” she added.
That doesn’t concern her, though. What troubles her is that children are being compromised. “It looks to me, and other experts that I am talking to, that this is perhaps a knee-jerk reaction or a band aid for the problems that they have, which is that there’s a bottleneck in Grade 1 - there are too many children in Grade 1,” she added.
Then she brings up an interesting theory. According to the DoE, SA schools have a 20 percent repeat rate. “We might have a higher repeat rate. But here’s the thing - we probably have a lot of children who should be repeating who are already being pushed up, and their reports are not reflective of their abilities,” speculated the parenting author.
What the child development and education fraternity finds unsettling is that children are not able to consolidate and master the necessary pre-writing, pre-maths skills before they move to the next level.
“This compromises their ability to perform at the next level, which in turn will impact on their self worth, their self esteem and their self confidence,” commented Bush.
For Bush, the solution is simple - school readiness and learning readiness.
She advised that for school readiness, children need to acquire strong perceptual skills in the preschool years through concrete learning and guided play experiences. She also recommended that parents can help prepare their children acquire these skills and reinforce them in everyday ordinary ways.
“With the correct training in perceptual skills development, adults [parents together with teachers] can prepare children for Grade R without sophisticated schools and equipment, if you know how fundamental learning occurs,” she concluded.
The Department of Education was contacted comment. They are yet to respond.