Starting now, South Africa’s pupils will be able to obtain as little as 20% in mathematics in Grades 7, 8 and 9 and still progress to the next year of learning. This has been touted by many as evidence of an alleged inexorable decline in educational standards. The country is already known for its poor performance in international standardised assessments in mathematics. This latest move may be misconstrued as condoning such poor achievement. But the truth is a little more complex. For Grades 7 and 8 – when pupils should be between 14 and 15 years of age – this strategy of “pushing through” to avoid repeated student retention is not new. It has been part of standard policy. This means that by the time pupils reach Grade 9, there’s a bottleneck in the system. It was inevitable that this pressure would need to be relieved. To understand why, one must consider the confluence of a number of factors, including: the over-inflated importance of mathematics; a curriculum packed too full to a...

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