New Grade 10 curriculum 'not working at all'
by Candes Keating

(July 2006)

Principals across the province are aghast after hundreds of Grade 10 pupils, guinea pigs for the new curriculum, failed June exams, with some schools reporting a 60 percent failure rate.

This year's Grade 10 is the first to tackle the revised curriculum, referred to as the Further Education and Training Band, and will be followed by grades 11 and 12.

But principals say the first exam has been a disaster and fear many pupils will have to repeat Grade 10 next year.

Heads said that they had called meetings with parents to discuss the problems and work out a way forward before the crunch comes in end-of-year exams.

They said the General Education Training band curriculum, followed by pupils up to Grade 9, had failed to prepare them for the stringent demands of the new curriculum.

Nadeem Hendricks, principal at Trafalgar High in Cape Town, said: "The results are frightening. We are devastated.

"About 60 percent of our learners failed. Normally our failure rate is 20 percent. This says a lot about the new curriculum."

Sigamoney Naicker, chief director of education planning for the Western Cape Department of Education, said they were aware of the "challenges" facing teachers and Grade 10 pupils.

"We have a very realistic understanding of the challenges we face and there is a commitment to solving the problems."

Hendricks said the gap between the two curriculums was "too big" and there was "no synergy between the two".

"The curriculums do not flow into one another. This is not working at all."

He urged the Education Department to look into the situation.

"If we do not address alternative strategies, just imagine the disaster we will face later this year, with the end-of-year exam."

The new curriculum requires pupils to take seven subjects, four of which are compulsory. These include the mother tongue, an additional language and two new subjects, maths and mathematical literacy, and life orientation.

Pupils then choose the other three subjects.

"The passing criterion for the Grade 10s is very high. It's difficult for children to pass," said Pat Williams, principal of Luckhoff Secondary in Stellenbosch.

Up to Grade 9, assessment focused on continuous evaluation rather than exams.

But now, in Grade 10, the assessment focus had shifted to exams, Williams said. "The pupils were never prepared to write exams and are struggling."

The exams do not offer a choice between higher- or standard- grade papers. All pupils wrote the same paper, which leant more towards higher grade, Williams explained.

"The Education Department must go back to the drawing-board."

At Spine Road Secondary in Mitchell's Plain, 50 percent of Grade 10 pupils failed the June exams.

"It's traumatic for our learners," said principal Riyadh Najaar. Teachers at the school will meet later this week to discuss strategies.

"We have to do something to prevent a massive Grade 10 failure rate at the end of the year," he said.

Thurston Brown, principal of Manenberg High, said teachers were already working on a strategy to improve results.

He said teachers had not been properly trained by the department to meet the demands of the new curriculum. "The picture is very gloomy."

Louis de Kock, principal at Gardens Commercial High, said: "The Grade 10s can't cope with the curriculum."

Sue Miller, curriculum adviser for the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA, said the department would have to address the situation to prevent a disaster.

Teachers had not been adequately trained to implement the curriculum, which was "over- designed".

Helen Sieborger of the National Union of Educators said they were not surprised by the results.

It was obvious that pupils would not pass exams in Grade 10 if they had not developed exam-writing skills in the lower grades. She also expressed concern about compulsory subjects, such as maths and mathematical literacy.

"Not all learners are mathematically inclined," she said.

Dr Chris Reddy, an education curriculum expert at Stellenbosch University, said the curriculum had undergone "huge changes" but too few measures were in place to help teachers and pupils cope.

Continuing training for teachers had to be introduced, Reddy said.

Naicker said his department was looking at "bridging aspects" from Grade 9 to Grade 10 and was closely monitoring the situation.

Referring to the literacy and numeracy strategy due to be launched later today by the Education Department, Naicker said it would also offer additional support for the challenges Grade 10s faced.

This included providing continuous training and support to teachers and pupils. "To turn around the system we have to be committed, but there is no quick-fix solution," Naicker said.