‘30 percent pass is not good enough’

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By Leanne Jansen

Durban - Education in South Africa was missing the boat on several basic fronts, and fundamental changes were needed to ensure children were given the best possible access to knowledge.

KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Senzo Mchunu made these remarks in an interview with The Mercury at the weekend. He said the provincial ANC would be pushing for deep-rooted change in education at the party’s elective conference Mangaung in two weeks.

Among the changes he wanted were:

* The Grade 12 pass mark to be higher than 30 percent.

* That teachers are not be allowed to moonlight as councillors.

* That schools not pay commercial municipal rates.

* That the “appropriateness” of subjects like life orientation and maths literacy be reviewed.

Mchunu said the 30 percent benchmark was “too low”.

“It’s a failure mark, not a pass mark,” he said.

The KZN ANC’s submission on education conceded that concern around the pass mark was “legitimate” and required “decisiveness”, he added.

“A pass mark is 50 percent,” said the MEC.

Currently to pass Grade 12, a pupil must achieve 40 percent in three of their six subjects, including their home language, and 30 percent in the other three.

In May, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was quoted defending the Grade 12 pass requirements, despite criticism from prominent academics Mamphela Ramphele and Jonathan Jansen.

However, last month, Motshekga announced, in the Government Gazette, the establishment of a committee to probe the standard of the National Senior Certificate.

Mchunu said he wanted to see the bulk of the province’s pupils (at least 60 percent) opt for pure maths, rather than maths literacy.

The “tendency” among schools to encourage pupils to take maths literacy, for the sake of their Grade 12 pass-rate record, had to stop, he said.

University of the Witwatersrand school of education head Professor Ruksana Osman said he wondered if 30 percent as a pass rate produced pupils who were competent enough to succeed at university and in the workplace.

“What we have to focus on is setting standards for pupils to be sufficiently competent, and 30 percent indicates that they aren’t.”

Dr Edith Dempster, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education, said although a 30 percent pass should not allow university entrance, a pass mark in the old standard grade exams was 33 percent, and that candidates were awarded a lower-grade pass if they got 25 percent, or just above, on the standard grade papers.

“I disagree that 30 percent is a ‘failure mark’,” Dempster said.

On life orientation and maths literacy Dempster said: “It may be possible to collapse into one subject. They are part of education for life, not necessarily preparation for university, but providing useful life skills.” - The Mercury

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