Pretoria - The Basic Education department on Sunday defended its decision to "condone" pupils who did not meet the requisite mathematics requirements for progression to the next grade in the senior phase - grades seven to nine.
The department also lamented the "continued and inaccurate" media reports about the 20 percent pass mark.
"To start with, there is no such thing as a 20 percent pass mark for mathematics and there has been no change in the progression policy to reflect such. The continued media reports to this effect are therefore unfortunate and indeed misleading," the department said in a statement.
"People familiar with the South African education system would recall that in the past, if a pupil failed a language he/she failed the year. One could fail mathematics and still pass the year if one passed languages with above 40 percent and all other subjects. After the introduction of the new curriculum (CAPS) in 2014 the requirements changed, with the department raising the bar in terms of the pass criteria.
"In addition to passing your two language subjects you have to pass one of them, ie home language at minimum 50 percent, and you have to pass mathematics at minimum 40 percent. In essence what the policy states is that even if you pass all of your other subjects with distinctions, but got less than 40 percent for mathematics you failed the year.
"We are all aware that not everyone is mathematically inclined. Some people are more inclined towards the arts, others are better with technical subjects, making this policy unfair to those who are forced to take mathematics but are not good at it," the department said.
In addition, the choice to do mathematics or mathematics literacy came in at grade 10 level, meaning it was compulsory for pupils in grades seven, eight, and nine to do pure mathematics.
Taking note of concerns around the suitability of the policy raised with the department by school principals and provincial education departments, the department decided to take the policy under review.
The concern was that pupils who could go to the next grade based on meeting all other pass criteria were being held back in the grade unnecessarily. the department said. "It had been shown that grade repetition could lead to increased school dropout, increased truancy, and a number of other adverse effects.
"While the policy is under review a decision was taken to condone those who passed all the subjects except that they did not meet the 40 percent criteria in mathematics to the next grade. That is if they met all other pass requirements and obtained more than 20 percent in mathematics.
"This decision is only applicable to senior phase learners and only applicable for the 2016 cohort of learners while we are at this point of policy review," the department said.