South Africa

South Africa

School Maths: Dropping the bar for mathematics passes may not add up

School Maths: Dropping the bar for mathematics passes may not add up

A proposal by the Department of Basic Education could put paid to the requirement that pupils in Grades 7, 8 and 9 pass maths in order to progress to the next grade. The move comes after parents urged the department to look at its pass requirements. By ORATENG LEPODISE.

Pupils may no longer have to worry about passing maths in Grades 7, 8 and 9. However they won’t escape maths completely as they will still be faced with a choice between maths and maths Literacy at Grade 10 level.

A new proposal by the Department of Basic Education could put paid to the requirement that pupils in Grades 7, 8 and 9 pass maths in order to progress to the next grade. They will still have to take maths in these grades, but if they fail it they won’t fail the whole grade.

According to department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga the move comes after parents urged the department to look at its pass requirements.

Mhlanga said the department had also been monitoring pass requirements in the different provinces. “It was apparent from the 2014 mid-year performance, that the new promotion requirements were adversely affecting the performance of learners at school level,” he said.

To minimise the impact of the compulsory pass requirement of mathematics at 40%, a special condonation dispensation for the subject was applied which allowed for an adjustment of marks. This means “learners who passed all other subjects, but failed mathematics with a minimum mark of 20%, were condoned and would thus pass mathematics and pass the examination as a whole”.

Mhlanga said the negative impact of the compulsory pass requirement of mathematics at 40% and home language at 50%, made the department realise that it had to consider amending the policy and regulations “to respond to the challenges and the unintended consequences brought about by the new programme and promotion requirements”.

In response, the department drew up amendments to the Foundation, Intermediate and Senior Phase promotion requirements which call on pupils to:

  • Pass four subjects at 40%, one of which is a home language;
  • Pass any other four subjects at 30%; and
  • Mathematics removed as a compulsory promotion requirement.

The amendments will be the subject of a consultation process the department is about to embark on with educationists, assessment experts, higher education institutions, parents and the public.

The proposal has sparked mixed reactions.

We agree with the drop of the pass requirements but we don’t agree with dropping maths as a compulsory pass requirement,” said Basil Manuel Executive Director of the National Professional Teacher’s Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa). Manuel urged the department to look at the curriculum saying it was “too wide” which resulted in children having too many concepts to cover but not allowing them the time to grasp these adequately.

Manuel also said another contributing factor to the low maths pass rate might be that teachers are not adequately trained in how to teach maths saying “content can be learned but methods cannot not be taught”.

If the Annual National Assessment (ANA) marks are anything to go by, pupils in the senior phase (Grs 7,8 and 9) have performed poorly in mathematics in recent years.

According to the statistics, only 2%, 2% and 3% of Grade 9 pupils in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively attained mathematics ANA results at an acceptable level of 50%.

In 2014 only 3% of all the Grade 9 pupils got more than half the marks in the Grade 9 ANA (which was set at the curriculum standard).

Jacques du Plessis Mathematics Education expert at Wits University said it was worrying that the bar in education and particularly mathematics education was being lowered over the years.

Now it is at a level where mathematics is seemed to be treated as insignificant by the department. This decision will be shutting the doors on a future for these young learners, as the problem will persist in the grades that follow. If a child is promoted without having mastered certain mathematical skills, we will be perpetuating further failure in the grades that follow,” Du Plessis said.

But Mhlanga said the proposal did not mean that the department had given up on maths. “We have actually stepped up our interventions to develop mathematics. We have increased our conditional grant for maths…We are spending more than R360 million this year alone to improve the performance of both teachers and learners in mathematics,” Mhlanga said.

The DBE has identified, and is trying to respond to a genuine problem,” Nicky Roberts, Associate Professor at the Centre for Education Practice Research at the University of Johannesburg said.

One possible response to this problem, is to consider changing the Senior

Phase mathematics promotion requirements. Other responses may be to revise the mathematics curriculum in terms of its pace and differentiation (allowing children to make sense of different kinds of maths, and not expecting all learners to work at the same pace and standard of maths, based primarily on their age),” Roberts said.

Roberts said “it would be important for proposals considered to allow different paths (with different lengths of time) to reach the same goal of quality mathematics passes in a curriculum which sets high expectations”.

The aim (would be) to keep as many paths to higher maths open but allow more flexibility in how and when these standards are met. So one can spilt a module on algebra from advanced algebra: those who manage algebra move onto advanced algebra (and those who don’t manage get another try at algebra),” said Roberts.

Mhlanga said only once the proposal was discussed, approved and promulgated would it be adopted and communicated to all via official curriculum and examination circulars.

At this point this is merely an issue for internal discussion and broader public consultation,” he said. DM

Photo: World Bank Photo library


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