By Minister Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Minister of Education:
In the light of our concerns regarding the progression system, and Minister Motshekga’s recent public acknowledgement that this system is problematic, I met with her yesterday to discuss it.
For some time now we have been concerned about the impact of the National Progression Policy on education. Through speaking to teachers and principals it has become apparent that this policy, although well-intentioned, has a number of unintended consequences for our learners and teachers, which are bad for education.
This policy provides that, even though learners do not achieve the required outcomes, they are pushed through to the next grade in order that they are not kept for more than four years in a phase. It is something that is in place in some other countries, and has some educational merit, in that we do not wish to have classes that are over-inflated with overage learners, as this can also bring its own problems.
What we have found, though, is that some our progressed learners are either simply not being assisted to attain the requisite standards in some cases, are not able to in others, and when they get older, they are not applying themselves because they know that they will be progressed to the next grade whether they actually pass or not. This last one is a particularly perverse incentive.
The result of applying this rigidly is that learners are leaving school early, as they cannot cope, or are staying in school with no hope of passing matric. This also affects their self-worth.
On delving into this issue it became apparent that many of the problems we are facing is as a result of the Regulations which were promulgated following the implementation of this policy. The policy itself largely provides a lot more flexibility for learners to be held back if they are not going to manage the next grade. When the regulations were passed, this flexibility was removed, and it was provided that no learner may be kept in a phase for longer than four years.
It is also apparent that the intention of the policy clearly contemplates additional assistance for learners who do not meet the required outcomes. It is not intended to simply push learners up to another grade and let them languish.
Obviously additional assistance costs money, and this is extremely difficult in constrained financial circumstances with many pressures. However, we simply must do this to give our children a solid education which is the only thing that will open up opportunities for them and encourage economic growth. We need to ensure that maximum intervention is given as early as possible in their school career, so they master the basics which will prepare them for the higher grades.
I made some proposals to Minister Motshekga, the most significant being:
- That she repeal the regulations relating to progression, and allow us to work within the more flexible policy.
- That we need more remedial teaching, especially in the foundation phase, to ensure that learners are given the best possible start, so that by the time children reach Grade 4, they will have attained the required levels of literacy and numeracy.
- We need to carry on expanding alternative opportunities for learners who cannot perform in a normal academic stream ,such as our Schools of Skills, and increase opportunities for technical schools.
I found Minister Motshekga extremely receptive to my suggestions, many of which she had been considering.
Obviously funding is a concern.
I urge Minister Motshekga, in an effort to save money for much needed additional and remedial assistance, not to proceed any further after this year with the ANA’s for Grades 1-9, as is currently being rolled out, but to stick to testing in Grades 3,6 and 9 as we have done up to now, and as we do in our systemic testing in the Western Cape.
I do not believe that testing at a national every year is necessary, which will be done by schools as usual. It is also expensive and places additional burdens on our teachers. I also urge Minister Motshekga to make the ANA’s more credible, in which case we can review our decision to conduct systemic tests as well.
I am hopeful that these progression regulations will shortly be scrapped, and we can concentrate on improving the quality of our education rather than simply moving children through a system that is not preparing them for life.