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Durban - KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education, Kwazi Mshengu, has warned schools in the province to stop the scrapping of “gateway subjects” in their curriculum in a desperate bid to maintain a 100% pass rate. 

Mshengu was speaking to principals at the annual South African Democratic Teachers Union Provincial Principals’ Seminar at the Coastlands Hotel last week.

Gateway subjects refer to subjects like maths, physical science and accounting which are considered critical for the country’s development and economic growth.

“Sometimes the school is not getting the result they need and learners are failing the subject. Therefore, for a school to achieve a 100% pass rate, they decide to remove that subject so that it is left with soft subjects only and achieves the 100% mark,” said Mshengu.

He said the department had taken a decision to identify those schools and get them to reverse the decision. 

“We are not chasing numbers or images, but we also want to produce the quality. If the problem is that there is no teacher, let’s get the teacher and send him to that school,” he said.

He added that if the problem was about the teachers who could not properly teach, the department should empower them by sending subject advisers to those schools.

Mshengu said principals who scrapped gateway subjects would be required to provide reasons for doing so.

“The economy now demands that we produce learners with technical skills and who will have a future beyond matric,” he added.

Education expert and Dean of the Humanities faculty at Wits University, Ruksana Osman, said gateway subjects were critical for pupils. Osman said these subjects developed pupils’ analytical skills and skills to work with big ideas, concepts and data.

“Removing these subjects will disadvantage students in terms of the skills they develop, in terms of career choices they make and in terms of the contribution they can make to the country and the economy,” said Osman.

She said it was a fallacy to assume that removing gateway subjects would increase the pass rates.

“The way to improve pass rates is not to remove subjects, but to give better choices to students and to improve the quality of teaching,” she said.

Mshengu also questioned the appointment of school governing bodies, saying the way they were elected must change.

“SGBs have serious powers including determining what is to be taught in that school. If you are going to elect someone who does not have an education background and elect them because they are popular in the community, that will not take us anywhere,” he said.

He said the quality of SGBs should be in line with the quality of work they were expected to do.

Chetty Callaghan of Governors’ Alliance said SGBs were not elected but they were nominated by parents and teachers. “First of all the department should be training the SGBs to ensure quality education in schools, but they don’t do that.

“SGBs work hand in hand with the principals and if the principal is not functional, the blame is on the SGB.”

The Mercury