Teacher unions are readying to call on government to stop promoting pupils who fail - a plea rejected by both national and provincial education departments.
Some of the country’s major teacher unions told the Daily News they were preparing to take their appeal to government, arguing that the policy is seriously flawed and unworkable - and contributed to the high matric failure rates last year.
“This policy of passing through the system learners who failed - known as progressed learners - is not sustainable and will lead to a total collapse of our education system,” said South African Democratic Teachers Union’s KwaZulu-Natal deputy secretary, Bheki Shandu.
“Our teachers are being saddled with even more responsibilities under serious constraints to support learners who do not deserve to be in the next grade. We are adding to an already bloated system by pushing these learners through without support for teachers to take on that responsibility.
“The provincial education department has overspent by more than R2bn and has openly stated it does not have additional resources or funding to support educators, so under these conditions the policy of progressed learners cannot be allowed to continue,” Shandu said.
Several senior KZN education officials, who asked not to be named, supported dumping the policy and called on the education department to release figures on the pass rate of progressed learners in KZN.
“At one school in KZN, only six out of 55 progressed learners from Grade 11 passed in 2013. The number of progressed learners in Grade 12 at this school numbers 155 for this year. In most cases these progressed learners have passed only isiZulu and life orientation. The pass rate this year is going to be far worse than last year,” warned one official.
Another, from the Amajuba District, which recorded the worst matric failure rate in the province and second-highest in the country, added: “Our district had 3 125 progressed learners in 2014... In some schools only 2 out of 28 progressed learners passed.
“The policy of pushing failed learners through simply adds to teachers’ frustrations. The attitude of many of these learners has also changed dramatically. They now have the attitude that they don’t have to work hard any more as they would be put through to Grade 12 even if they fail,” added the official.
However, acting head of communications at the national Department of Basic Education, Elijah Mhlanga, has defended the policy: “The phenomenon of progressing learners who have not met promotion requirements is not unique to South Africa. It happens in countries like Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Korea, and United Kingdom.
“These countries are pro-automatic progression instead of repetition. This approach has been found to be efficient. We need to strengthen our support programme for such learners. The Western Cape had 2 687 progressed learners in 2014 and of this 838 passed, with 19 achieving bachelor passes.
“These learners would still be languishing in Grade 11 when in fact they had the necessary cognitive skills to pass at Grade 12 as it has been shown. Nationally there was a total of 6 257 progressed learners and most of them passed. If this was not done they would have been unfairly held back.
“KZN had about 140 000 matriculants in the 2014 exams and the number of progressed learners cannot be in the majority such that they could have affected the results to the extent that the province dropped by 7.7 percent. It’s incorrect to apportion blame on the policy when as a system we need to work hard to finish the syllabus, make time for revision and ensure that learners rise to the required levels,” Mhlanga said.
He added that figures for progressed learners from Gauteng and KZN were not yet available. Provincial education spokesman, Muzi Mahlambi, also said these figures would be available only in 10 days.
However, Mhlanga’s argument has been dismissed by National Teachers Union spokesman, Allen Thompson.
“Less than 40 percent of progressed learners passed matric last year. This means around 60 percent of those who were pushed through failed. We are depriving competent learners who have earned a place in matric an opportunity to receive more assistance from teachers to prepare them for matric,” he said.
“The complaint from our teachers is that most progressed learners are disruptive in class, knowing that nothing can be done to hold them back and that regardless of their efforts they will be pushed through the next grade. They are a serious threat to our education system because there is no criteria of competency to promote learners and that is a disaster for our future leaders,” Thompson said.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, called for a review of the policy in its current form rather than a total withdrawal.
“We need a system which is inclusive of all learners,” said Naptosa president, Basil Manuel.
“At the moment, our education system caters solely for the academic child, which results in the bottleneck we are experiencing.
“Government needs to relook at the model of progressing learners and provide alternatives for those who are not academically inclined.”
KZN education MEC, Peggy Nkonyeni, called on teachers to remain calm and work with the department to improve the results this year.
“We need to change our attitude towards those learners who are failing.
“The policy to push through learners who have failed is a correct one, and rather than discouraging them, we need to pull out all the stops to support them.
“As a department we are going to do just that and call on all stakeholders to join us in making this work,” she said.