The Department of Basic Education wants to lower the minimum mark required for learners to progress in the senior phase (Grades 7-9).

Currently, these learners will not progress to the next grade if they get below 50% for their home language. Nevertheless, the department now wants this Home Language entry reduced to 40%.

That now means that learners are allowed to proceed to the next if they get 40% in their mother tongue and three other subjects. And, for the first time, achieving 30% in three subjects in the grades would see learners moving to the next grade.

In 2017, Grade 7-9 were allowed drop Mathematics, as it was no longer a compulsory subject.

The public has 21 days to comment on these proposals, which were published in the Government Gazette on Friday.

Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, said their latest move was meant to align promotion requirements in the entire secondary school level.

“We want everything to be the same. We want people to know that pass requirements of secondary school are like this. We’re at different stages of achieving exactly that. But right now we want to align Grades 7, 8 and 9 with what is in Grades 10, 11 and 12.”

Having said that, Mhlanga denied that the department was lowering the standards of public education. He explained that the department was not instructing learners to get the minimum and that they (the department) want them to still continue to aim for the total marks on offer.

“We’re not saying learners should now feel free to get the lowest possible. We’re saying this should be the minimum, but those who have goals in their lives will still work hard at achieving 100%. But then if they can’t, we’re saying that should be the minimum”

The department said the pass requirements could change again in future.

General Secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, Mugwena Maluleke, said the union was concerned about a pattern of lowering requirements in the public school system.

“If you keep on changing, lowering the standards, you’re also saying that the children must not apply themselves,” said Maluleke. “You’re saying to teachers, ‘Look, it’s fine that the children perform at that particular level’. The issue here is about the future of the children, not any other person.”

He said this would hurt public school matriculants in the long run. Another concern was that the quality of the content at university will be challenging for these particular learners precisely because they will be undermined.

Allan Thompson, Deputy President of The National Teachers’ Union (Natu) also criticised the decision.

“To lower the pass rate is to lower the standard. We’re saying instead of lowering the pass requirements, you need to increase the number of teachers in the classroom and reduce the class size.”

Dr Ramodungoane Tabane, an educational psychologist at Unisa, said “Lowering pass requirements didn’t motivate learners. The knock-on effect was that schools would churn out matriculants underprepared for varsity.”

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