Response DBE Maths Grade 9

The recent announcement by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) regarding certain proposed changes to the pass requirements for grades 7-9, which specifically involves Mathematics, is disconcerting.
The proposed amendments are as follows:
Pupils have to…
• pass four subjects at 40%, one of which is a home language
• Pass any other four subjects at 30%
• Maths removed as a compulsory promotion requirement
The Annual National Assessments (ANA) were introduced in 2012 to develop a benchmark at a level lower (Grade 9) than Grade 12 in order to measure improvements in learners’ performance (as a presumed indicator of the standard of mathematics education provided by the teachers). The ANA results showed that ‘poor quality teaching and learning are manifest in the early grades in the system’ (Adler & Pillay, 2017). In our view, by removing Mathematics as a promotional requirement in grades 7-9, this problem will be perpetuated and will probably have far-reaching implications for FET and higher education.
The difference in pass requirements between grade 7-9 on the one hand and grade 10-12 on the other is not a good enough justification to lower the pass marks in grades 7-9. According to Mhlanga, the spokesperson of the DBE (Cape Times, 4 July 2017), these amendments could also be applied to pass requirements in the foundation and intermediate phases, with unimaginable consequences – we are concerned that such amendments in the proposed phase will open the door for similar amendments to pass requirements in other phases.
Although we agree that there is no justification that a learner in phases prior to the FET phase should fail the grade just because he/she does not pass mathematics, these proposals might have an influence on the view of the importance of Mathematics as a subject discipline. The current proposal reflects the DBE’s debatable view of mathematics as an instrumentalist subject discipline (for rote application in specific career fields containing algorithmic or routine mathematical problem solving), instead of a dynamic, specialised human activity aimed at developing logical and critical thinking and conceptual understanding (Ernst, 1991) for careers in specialised fields like mathematics/science education (teacher education and training), physics, chemistry, economics, engineering, statistics, architecture, pure mathematics, etc. – were non-algorithmic and nonroutine problem solving and the description and modelling of real life/theoretical phenomena are required).
The question needs to be asked Z why is Mathematics singled out as the main culprit for poor pass rates? If learners (and teachers) realise that they need not pass maths to pass the grade, it might allow for teachers to spend less time on mathematics and it will impact negatively on learners’ motivation to study the subject. Learners in Gr. 7 (and even in 8) are barely in the position to make an informed decision whether they are, or might become interested in the subject. A real interest in mathematics can only be fostered when comprehension of mathematics is achieved. With the good and purposeful teaching of mathematics, perhaps a love, or at least an appreciation of, mathematics, might be instilled in more learners. Perhaps this ideal would be reached more easily if mathematics teachers rather apply their energy to supporting mathematically able learners who have shown that they can pursue careers in which a high level of conceptual and conditional understanding of mathematics is required.
The fact that the TIMSS results (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2016) indicate that South Africa lags far behind the rest of the world as far as achievement in Mathematics is concerned, should be the issue to be addressed. It now seems as if the DBE is currently trying to find a quick fix in order to artificially boost the Gr. 9 pass rate results by scrapping the requirement to pass Mathematics in phases prior to the FET phase.
Although this is understandable, in a way, an approach such as this is not feasible, sustainable, educationally or morally sound. This ties in with the argument by SADTU that the actual skills that are taught and transferred are more important to the child than merely passing the subject. In the long term, those are the objectives we should aim for and not just statistical objectives. Here, we refer to the discrepancies between school assessment results and, later, the actual ability of learners (who successfully matriculated as exit clients from the formal mathematics education provided by the DBE) to perform in tertiary education.
Mathematics is deemed a sufficiently significant subject that all learners are expected to continue up to Gr. 12, whether it be in the form of Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy. If Mathematics is important enough to be compulsory up to Gr. 12, surely it is important enough that the learners are required to pass the subject in Gr. 9 in order to progress with secondary school studies in the FET phase.
It does not make sense to keep Mathematics as a compulsory subject if its value and worth is diminished at the lower grades. This presents a mixed message. If this is the line of reasoning, perhaps the DBE should reconsider making Maths compulsory up to Gr. 12.
Mathematics, unlike many other school subjects, has a strong linear progression, it is seen as a ‘coherent and connected enterprise’ (NCTM, 2000). Learners might now be expected in Gr. 10 to advance with concepts and ideas that were never mastered in previous grades. Is it a sound educational principle for a learner that has achieved 10% for Mathematics in Gr. 9, for example, to continue with the subject into the FET band?
In principle, we support the idea that not all learners will eventually need mathematics for admission to tertiary study or for the specific career path that they choose to follow.
If Mathematics is removed as a promotional requirement, perhaps the solution is to create different strands in which learners at the end of
Gr. 9 can either leave school, continue with different forms of mathematics, (and not Mathematical Literacy) according to their future studies or not take Mathematics at all.
We strongly advise that Mathematical Literacy is incorporated into Life Orientation as all learners need the numeracy skills as proposed in the aims of the Mathematical Literacy curriculum. But, as long as the name of the subject includes the word ‘Mathematics’ or ‘Mathematical’ we are going to see unnecessary confusion about the tertiary/career opportunities that the subject gives access to.
In conclusion, it is comprehensible and commendable that the DBE is concerned with the plight of learners but these proposed changes will not be beneficial to education in South Africa in the long run, especially Mathematics education. We should rather tackle the root issues of the poor mathematical skills prevalent in our schools, such as pre- and in-service teacher education and support, than trying to artificially manipulate the statistics to make pass rates look good.
The proposed amendments, for grades 7 to 9, are as follows:
Pupils have to…
•pass four subjects at 40%, one of which is a home language
•Pass any other four subjects at 30%
•Maths removed as a compulsory promotion requirement
The Annual National Assessments (ANA) were introduced in 2012 to develop a benchmark at a level lower (Grade 9) than Grade 12 in order to measure improvements in learners’ performance (as presumed indicator of the standard of mathematics education provided by the teachers). The ANA results showed that “poor quality teaching and learning are manifest in the early grades in the system” (Adler & Pillay, 2017). In our view, by removing Mathematics as a promotional requirement in Grade 7 – 9, this problem will be perpetuated, and will probably have far-reaching implications for FET and higher education.
The difference in pass requirements between grade 7-9 on the one hand, and grade 10-12 on the other hand, is not a good enough justification to lower the pass marks in Grade 7-9. According to Mhlanga, the spokesperson of the DBE (Cape Times, 4 July 2017), these amendments could also be applied to pass requirements in the foundation and intermediate phases, with unimaginable consequences – we are concerned that such amendments in the proposed phase will open the door for similar amendments to pass requirements in other phases.
Although we agree that there is no justification that a learner in phases prior to the FET phase should fail the grade just because he/ she does not pass mathematics, these proposals might have an influence on the view of the importance of Mathematics as a subject discipline. The current proposal reflects the DBE’s debatable view of mathematics as an instrumentalistic subject discipline (for rote application in specific career fields containing algorithmic or routine mathematical problem solving), instead of a dynamic, specialised human activity aimed at developing logical and critical thinking as well as conceptual understanding (Ernst, 1991) for careers in specialized fields such as mathematics-/ science education (teacher education and training), physics, chemistry, economics, engineering, statistics, architecture, pure mathematics, etc. – where non-algorithmic and non-routine problem solving as well as the description and modelling of real life/ theoretical phenomena are required).
The question needs to be asked – why is Mathematics singled out as the main culprit for poor pass rates? If learners (and teachers) realise that they need not pass maths to pass the grade, it might allow for teachers to spend less time on mathematics, and it will impact negatively on leaners’ motivation to study mathematics. Learners in grade 7 (and even in 8) are barely in the position to make an informed decision whether they are, or might become interested in the subject. A real interest in mathematics can only be fostered when comprehension of mathematics is achieved. With good and purposeful teaching of mathematics, perhaps a love, or at least an appreciation of mathematics, might be instilled in more learners. This ideal could possibly be better addressed than currently, if mathematics teachers could apply their energy rather to support of mathematically able learners with the demonstrated ability to persue careers in which a high level of conceptual and conditional understanding of mathematics is required.
The fact that the TIMSS results (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2016) indicate that South Africa lags far behind the rest of the world as far as achievement in Mathematics is concerned, should be the issue to be addressed. It now seems as if the DBE is currently trying to find a quick fix in order to artificially boost the Grade 9 pass rate results, by scrapping the requirement to pass Mathematics in phases prior to the FET phase.
Although this, in some way is understandable, an approach such as this is not feasible, sustainable, educationally and morally sound. This ties in with the argument by SADTU that the actual skills that are taught and transferred are more important to the child, than the mere passing of the subject. In the long term those are the objectives we should aim for, and not just statistical objectives. Here, we refer to the discrepancies between school assessment results and the later actual ability of learners (who sucsessfully matriculated as exit clients from the formal mathematics education provided by the DBE) to perform in tertiary education.
Mathematics is deemed a sufficiently significant subject that all learners are expected to continue up to Grade 12, whether it be in the form of Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy. If Mathematics is important enough to be compulsory up to Grade 12, surely it is important enough that the learners are required to pass the subject in Grade 9 in order to progress with secondary school studies in the FET phase .
It does not make sense to keep Mathematics as a compulsory subject if its value and worth is diminished at the lower grades. This presents a mixed message. If this is the line of reasoning, perhaps the DBE should reconsider making Maths compulsory up to Grade 12.
Mathematics, unlike many other school subjects, has a strong linear progression, it is seen as a “coherent and connected enterprise” (NCTM, 2000). Learners might now be expected in Grade 10 to advance with concepts and ideas that were never mastered in previous grades. Is it a sound educational principle for a learner that has achieved for example 10% for Mathematics in Grade 9 to continue with the subject into the FET band?
In principle we support the idea that not all learners will eventually need mathematics for admission to tertiary study, or for the specific career path that they choose to follow.
If Mathematics is removed as a promotional requirement, perhaps the solution is to create different strands in which learners at the end of Grade 9 can either leave school, continue with different forms of mathematics, (and NOT Mathematical Literacy) according to their future studies or not take Mathematics at all.
We strongly advise that Mathematical Literacy be incorporated into Life Orientation, as all learners need the numeracy skills as proposed in the aims of the Mathematical Literacy curriculum. But as long as the name of the subject include the word “Mathematics” or “Mathematical” we are going to see unnecessary confusion about the tertiary/ career opportunities that subject give access to.
In conclusion, it is comprehensible and commendable that the DBE is concerned with the plight of learners, but these proposed changes will not be beneficial to education in South Africa in the long run, especially Mathematics education. We should rather tackle the root issues of the poor mathematical skills prevalent in our schools, such as pre- and in-service teacher education and support, than trying to artificially manipulate the statistics to make pass rates look good.

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