The unintended implications of condoning pupils in grade 7 who got less than 40% in mathematics

On the 12th of December 2016 the South African department of basic education issued a statement that made me question the intentions of the department for our children. The statement said that “a decision was taken to condone those who did not meet the 40% criteria in Mathematics to the next grade if they met all other pass requirements and obtained more than 20% in mathematics.”{ as obtained from Department of education website}

Now I read this statement, and I sort of understood what the department was trying to do and I commend them for taking action. I understand that not all kids are mathematically inclined and maybe it shouldn’t be fair to keep them from the next grade simply because Mathematics is not their strong point. Maybe we should let them go onto the next grade, but what puzzles me with this solution is that we seem to be treating the symptoms of the problem and not really solving the problem.

Why is it that we are so quick to condone poor performance in mathematics when it is so vital for the future of this country? Why is it that we are ready to say that performing badly in mathematics is okay when it’s not accepted for other subjects? Are we really okay with viewing our pupils as incapable to meet standards that pupils in other countries are meeting? As a parent I am not sure if I would be okay with my child being promoted to the next grade if they achieved less than 40% in mathematics. For me this equates to saying to my child that it’s okay to fail. Society will understand when you fail, which is not true.  Our Society demands that you meet the required standards; it does not take excuses for failure.  So why at the level of grade 7 and grade 9 is the department saying failure is okay. Maybe am being too hard on our pupils or maybe I am a fool for thinking that our children are capable of achieving better results.

I am not an expert on education nor am I an expert on mathematics, but how does a teacher teach mathematics to a child who achieved less than 40% on the previous year? Where do you start in ensuring that this child is on the same level as the other children in the class? The little information that I have on mathematics seems to suggest that each grade serves as building blocks to the next grade.

So let’s assume pupil A goes through to grade 8 after only getting 30% on mathematics. He having passed grade 7 means he will now be going to a completely new school, high school for that matter. So a new school means new teachers, new environment and new friends.  How does the teacher for Pupil A assist him in getting the best marks in mathematics, when he has a foundation of only 30% maths? Bear in mind this teacher has many other new pupils in his class, some with a foundation of 95%. How does the teacher stick to the curriculum plan whilst helping pupil A and the pupil with a foundation of 95%? Are we not being unfair to this teacher? Are we not putting too much pressure on this teacher?

Okay let’s put the teacher aside, how about pupil A? Are we not subconsciously putting him at disadvantage? Have we not already decided his future for him? Have we not made it hard for this pupil to choose a mathematics related career? But like I said before I am not an expert and maybe am over thinking things. Maybe Pupil A failed in grade 7 because he had a bad teacher, maybe the teacher in grade 8 is an astounding teacher and will be able to handle this challenge.  These and many other questions flooded my mind when I read the statement.

The department of education hosted a mathematics Indaba in Pretoria from the 12th – 14th December 2016 and I believe such initiatives are exactly what the country needs in order to resolve the mathematics crisis we are facing. I hope this Indaba was able to address some of these questions because I can’t be the only person who has thought of them, but according to a statement issued by the department of education; the purpose of the Indaba was to place the teaching and learning of mathematics within the public schooling system boldly on the radar.  The indaba involved key stakeholders, experts and was hosted by the minister of basic education Angie Motshekga. I just hope that all the initiatives that were undertaken will be implemented because we can no longer afford to just talk about the problems facing Mathematics education but we need to start implementing solutions.


We need to continue to engage each other and work together. We are all to blame for this issue, and if you think you are not to blame then am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you are. The more time we spend criticising each other and coming up with excuses as to why this can’t be resolved, the more likely that this problem will increase.


Pupil A is to blame for the 30% mark, his mathematics teacher /school / principal are to blame, his parents are to blame, the community in which he pupil A resides is to blame.  The 30% mark is a cross which we all bear. So prior to jumping up and down and saying that the government shouldn’t try and amend the policy let’s ask ourselves what we have done in order to change Pupil A’s mark?


We at Nubian Smarts really believe that South Africa needs engaged stakeholders who will work hand in hand with the schools, the department and the pupils in order to implement sustainable solutions. The mobile applications that we are developing aim to address this challenge. We believe that the mathematics crisis has to be addressed from the primary level, where the basics are leant. We need to ensure that the passion for mathematics is ignited at an early age and we constantly work on nurturing this passion.

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