South African pupils repeating a grade costs R20 billion a year

South African school pupils who fail a grade and then repeat it costs around R20 billion each year, according to a report by the Sunday Times.

This amount is 8% of the country’s education budget, it said, referencing figures from the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University.

The report stated that pupils repeating grades took place due to a “weakly functioning education system”, and was a secondary issue to the low quality of education in the country.

Additionally, the report provided a conservative estimate of how many pupils repeated a grade in 2018 – 1.18 million.

The government is aware of the issue in part, however, and in August 2019 said it was moving ahead with its plan to stop South African students from repeating lower grades multiple times.

The policy of “automatic progression” proposes that a learner may only repeat a grade once in the foundation phase to prevent them from being retained in this phase for longer than four years.

In 2018, the department of education also let learners who failed grade 11 more than once write certain Matric papers in November and others in June the following year. This was termed a “multiple examination opportunity”.

Grade 10 peak and Matric concerns

Pupils repeating a grade peaked in grade 10, added the report, and in 2018 a total of 19.5% of grade 10 pupils were repeating the year after failing.

“Though high, the total was considerably less than in 2013 when it reached 24.2%. Grade 5 had the fewest repetitions in 2018, at 4.9% of pupils,” stated the report.

The report follows a statement from the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, Umalusi, that it remains concerned about the country’s mathematics marks.

Chairperson John Volmink said the body has observed a “worrying trend in mathematics”.

“The subject does not seem to be progressing in tandem with cognate subjects in terms of learner performances,” he said.

Additionally, a recent report which stated the matric pass rate will reach 80% for the first time has called the quality of the education outcomes into question.

Despite the increase in the matric pass rate in recent years, a government review noted that only 172,043 (33.6%) grade 12 students passed at bachelor level in 2018, against the 255,000 Medium Term Strategic Framework target for the year.

Now read: Big concern over South African matric maths

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South African pupils repeating a grade costs R20 billion a year