Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is once again eyeing bringing down the pass requirements in public schools.

This time, her department is is seeking to lower the minimum mark required to progress in the senior phase - Grades 7, 8 and 9.

Currently, these learners do not move to the next grade if they get below 50% for their home language.

However, the department now wants this home language threshold reduced to 40%. It proposes that pupils should pass if they get 40% in their mother tongue and three other subjects.

And, for the first time, achieving 30% in three subjects in the grades would see learners moving to the next grade.

The public has 21 days to comment on these proposals, which were published in the government gazette on Friday.

In 2016, the department sparked an outcry when it instructed public schools to condone all those in Grades 7 to 9 who obtained 20% in mathematics.

And last year, it dropped mathematics as a compulsory subject to pass those grades.

Elijah Mhlanga, the department’s spokesperson, told The Star on Monday their latest move was meant to align promotion requirements in the entire secondary school level.

“We want everything to be the same. We want people to know that pass requirements of secondary school are like this,” Mhlanga said.

“We’re at different pages of achieving exactly that. But right now we want to align Grades 7, 8 and 9 with what is in Grades 10, 11 and 12.”

Mhlanga denied that the department was lowering the standards of public education.

“We’re not instructing people to get the minimum,” he said. “We want them to still continue to aim for total marks on offer. But then if they can’t, we’re saying that should be the minimum.

“We’re not saying learners should now feel free to get the lowest possible. We’re saying this should be the minimum, but those who have goals in their lives will still work hard at achieving 100%.”

Mhlanga said the pass requirements could change again in future. “The decision whether to take them up will be taken once there’s uniformity in secondary school in general.”

Mugwena Maluleke, the general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, said their organisation was worried by a pattern of lowering requirements in the public school system.

He said this would hurt public school matriculants in the long run.

“If you keep on changing, lowering the standards, you’re also saying that the children must not apply themselves.

“You’re saying to teachers, ‘Look, it’s fine that the children perform at that particular level’. The issue here is about the future of the children, not any other person,” Maluleke said.

“The quality of the content at university will be challenging for these particular learners precisely because we’ve undermined them.”

The National Teachers’ Union (Natu) also lambasted the move.

“To Natu, to lower the pass rate is to lower the standard,” its deputy president, Allan Thompson, told The Star.

“We’re saying instead of lowering the pass requirements, you need to increase the number of teachers in the classroom and reduce the class size.”

Dr Ramodungoane Tabane, an educational psychologist at Unisa, said lowering pass requirements didn't motivate learners. The knock-on effect was that schools would churn out matriculants underprepared for varsity, he said.

“The more you adjust down, the more you take numbers up. Is it quality that goes up, or only quantity? That’s where the problem is.”

The Star