20 % maths pass mark causes a stir

By Drum Digital
09 December 2016

After a national outcry about the announcement that Grade 7 to 9 learners need only obtain 20% in mathematics to be promoted to the following grade, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has defended itself.

After a national outcry about the announcement that Grade 7 to 9 learners need only obtain 20% in mathematics to be promoted to the following grade, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has defended itself, saying that there is no such thing as a 20 % pass mark for mathematics.

Instead, their proposal is that the learners who achieve below 40 % and above 20 % for mathematics (which is a fail) will be condoned or passed through to the following year on condition that they pass all their other subjects.

The DBE says it is unfair that learners who pass all their subjects, even with distinction, can fail their entire year if they get below the required 40 % for mathematics.

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga explains, “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 (a compulsory requirement for learners to achieve 40 % in maths) unfair to those who are forced to take mathematics but are not good at it.”

In a statement, the DBE said the circular had been issued urgently after reports of poor results in the light of this requirement, and that this was an interim measure for 2016.

Despite this explanation, Education activists Equal Education (EE) say the DBE must explain the educational merits behind its decision.

“The DBE will argue that it has had to act to prevent unnecessary failure and repetition,” says Tshepo Motsepe, General Secretary at EE.

“For the DBE to communicate this decision to schools at such a late stage in the academic year is irresponsible, and disregards the decisions already made by teachers who are best placed to make these difficult judgements,” she says

Instead, EE argue that Government must direct greater effort and resources to improving the quality of early childhood development and foundation phase numeracy and literacy in grades 1 to 3.

“As many studies have pointed out, children acquire learning deficits early on, and the accumulation of those deficits is why they underperform in later years,” says Motsepe. “Learners are passed from one grade to the next without mastering the building blocks.”

South Africans were up in arms when the new announcement was made that students will require a mark above only 20% to pass maths. Here’s what they had to say:  

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