Pass mark debate highlights need for teacher development in maths

The Department of Basic Education has proposed dropping the requirement for grades 7‚ 8 and 9 to pass maths and reducing the pass mark for home language.

The proposal suggests pupils can obtain a pass mark of 40% instead of 50% for home language in these grades.

Department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said the proposal still needs to be discussed by schools‚ parents and interested parties.

Mhlanga said a task team established to investigate poor curriculum implementation found the new Caps curriculum‚ implemented in 2011‚ was tripping pupils up.

He explained that the pass mark for grades 7‚ 8 to 9 are currently higher than pass marks for grade 10 to Matric. The proposal sought to change the earlier grade pass marks to “align” with the pass marks for grade 10‚ 11 and 12.

The proposal for senior phase entails:

• Removing the requirement that pupils must pass maths if they are not going to take the subject up to grade 12

• Learners will be required to attain 30% in four subjects

• The pass mark for the other four subjects will be 40% including home language.

National Teachers Union president Sipho Ngcobo said that they would not support a move that essentially “lowered standards” for pupils.

“Pupils are not reaching the standard‚ so it is being brought to them‚ as opposed to them being pushed to succeed‚” he said.

“We believe that we as the teachers have a responsibility to move our learners to the required standard and we need the support of the department in doing that.”

Ngcobo said improving pupil performance would be achieved‚ not by dropping the pass mark‚ but by teacher development and by bolstering human resources.

The South African Teachers Union’s Chris Klopper said that having a higher standard in the phases only to dip in matric did not make “education sense”.

“We advocated therefore that the promotion requirements for both phases should be similar. It also does not make any sense to require that a learner who will not take Mathematics during the FET Phase [grade 10-12]‚ must attain 40% to pass grade 10‚” he said.

“There is no justification to fail a learner just because Maths cannot be passed. It will also not negatively affect those learners who intend to follow a career or studies for which Maths is a requirement‚” Klopper added.

National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa spokesperson Basil Manuel said that the union supported having the same pass mark across the different grades at school.

“The distinct phases have different pass requirements but there is no logic to have a higher pass requirement in grades 7 to 9 than for grades 10 to 12. The proposal is to bring them all in line.

“We believe this is a longstanding problem that needs to be addressed. We need to even out of the requirements with the national senior certificate‚” he said.

He said the union supported the drop in pass mark for home language.

“We call it home language but it is not their mother tongue. South Africa is unique in that the majority of students don’t study in their mother tongue.

“The written language remains extremely difficult to grasp. The home support system for learning the language of instruction remains difficult and we are welcoming the opportunity to engage on this because large groups of learners are disadvantaged because of the language issue‚” Manuel said.

He also said they supported the maths decision but the union believed that there were much deeper problems with maths teaching.

“We need investigations into why well-resourced schools and poorer schools are all struggling with maths.

“More needs to be done than just look at the pass mark‚” said Manuel.


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