Decree for 20% maths pass mark sets a dangerous precedent for schooling

The Department of Basic Education has reacted to pupils’ low marks for maths in a controversial way. It issued an urgent circular to its heads of departments, principals, managers, directors and exam and curriculum heads outlining a “special condonation dispensation”. This applies to pupils completing grades 7, 8 and 9 in the 2016 academic year just ended. Pupils who did not get 40% in mathematics may now progress to the next grade, provided they got more than 20% in mathemantics and met all other pass requirements. Only those who passed Grade 9 maths with 30% or more will be allowed to continue with the subject. Those who scored in the 20% band will in their final school years have to take mathematical literacy — a somewhat different and far less demanding subject. The move has been widely condemned. For instance, the Western Cape education department warned that if no “drastic action” was taken “we will be sitting in the same position next year”. The national department claims its directive is “an interim measure”. But how does it hope to address the crisis in maths education? What can be done to develop necessary skills through good maths teaching? ….more

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