‘Don’t promote failing pupils’

MEC urges government to scrap policy which leads to poor matric pass rate

EASTERN Cape Education MEC Mandla Makupula has petitioned the national government to scrap the policy of promoting failing pupils.

He said the blanket approach resulted in poor matric results because many in Grade 12 did not deserve to be there due to their poor performance in lower grades.

The province recorded a slight improvement with last year’s results, obtaining a 64.9% pass rate. However, the Eastern Cape has been languishing at the bottom of the table for years.

Nelson Mandela Bay and East London principals yesterday supported the call to have the policy scrapped.

On Tuesday, Makupula told the Bhisho legislature that the policy of promoting pupils to a higher grade, despite academic non-performance, was problematic and in urgent need of review.

His remarks come after education portfolio committee member and ANC MPL Fundile Gade tabled a report about visits to 120 schools in January. The committee found that in most cases condoned pupils outnumbered those who deserved to be in Grade 12. It also found that most of them were not ready for the grade.

“This policy is problematic in that it says learners cannot stay more than four years in each phase. It requires us to promote that child to the next grade if he or she failed at least once before in a particular phase,” Makupula said.

The 12-year education term is divided into four phases – grades 1 to 3 make up the foundation phase, grades 4 to 6 the intermediate phase, grades 7 to 9 the senior phase and grades 10 to 12 are regarded as a further education and training phase.

Under the National Education Policy Act No 27 of 1996, promulgated in 1998, pupils can only fail once in each phase.

“The practical challenge is that a child passes Grade 10 and proceeds to Grade 11. Then he or she fails Grade 11 and repeats that class. Then what does the policy say? It says that child cannot fail Grade 11 again. It says should that child fail again, he or she should be promoted to Grade 12,” Makupula said.

“Even though you as an educator see that this child is not going to make it in the higher grade, this policy forces us to promote that child.”

East London education expert Dr Ken Alston said a blanket approach to scrapping the promotion policy could prove detrimental to some pupils. He said each failure was usually due to a different reason, with pupils from across the Eastern Cape receiving different levels of education.

“There are kids who fall sick and miss a lot of school and because of this, ultimately they fail, for example.

“Then there are kids in township schools battling with no teachers, while other kids in rural areas have to walk hundreds of kilometres a year just to get to school.

“Those are all different kids with different experiences and obviously different reasons for why they would fail.

“Taking a blanket approach to this issue is not a good thing at all.” Alston said the issue should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with each case investigated individually.

“I think this is something the schools should decide because they are the ones who are closer to the child, rather than the government deciding for everyone.”

A number of principals said scrapping the policy would be beneficial to pupils.

Port Elizabeth’s Sanctor Primary School principal, Greg McCullum, said the policy created loopholes for pupils and their parents who knew that if pupils could not cope they would still be pushed through.

“This is quite a difficult problem. This policy can promote laxness and it certainly does not encourage pupils to work harder.

“Some of the challenges start appearing for pupils when they move from primary school to high school, and there are no adequate programmes in place to help them deal with this transition.

-Asanda NinI, Zisanda Nkonkobe and Shaun Gillham