The issue of automatic promotion of students in our school system still
remains a somewhat controversial one, but when it is scientifically analysed, the evidence seems to be in favour of the policy remaining in place.
Perhaps, persons may be in opposition to this policy if they are not receptive to change or they may not be au fait with the latest scientific findings in the matter.
Historically, people have always been skeptical about change, particularly when it is a radical one. And in this instance it is a radical one and another factor is that the retention policy has been in place since the colonial era.
Of course there are strong arguments for and against the policy of automatic promotion.
The strongest one, of course, is the psychological/emotional pressure on children. On the other hand, this policy could de-motivate children so they don’t feel the need to display a competitive spirit.
They would then be shielded from any pressing challenge to do better and the standard and quality of education could suffer because children would feel that regardless of whether they do well or poorly, they will be promoted. So why bother to work hard?
The other challenge is the fact that when a child goes into a higher class, he/she will be tasked with more advanced work and his/her ability to cope will depend largely on the mastering of the programme in the previous class because the school’s curriculum is one of continuity.
When a child repeats in a class, he/she may be able to catch up as some children are slow learners and repeating may actually benefit them.
One major reason given by our Ministry of Education for the experimentation with automatic promotion is that a survey has shown that most repeaters end up as school dropouts.
While there may be some correlation between school dropouts and repeating in a class, such a conclusion could be scientifically flawed because there could be several other reasons why these children end up as dropouts, including domestic problems, poverty and broken homes.
Scientific studies, however, have shown that automatic promotion has more advantages than the retention policy.
In 1995, Karl Alexander and colleagues reported findings from Baltimore indicating that retainees did somewhat better after retention than they had before (although with diminishing advantage over time) and even displayed positive attitudes toward self and school. This study was frequently cited by proponents of grade retention as evidence that newer studies were beginning to show a different pattern of findings from the conventional wisdom. However, an update six years later indicated that the earlier reported advantages to grade retention had washed out and that the retained students proved to be much more likely to drop out of school than the automatically promoted students.
However, what is abundantly clear is that in order for the automatic promotion policy to produce the intended and desired results it must be accompanied by an effective remediation programme to cater for the weaker students.
When the automatic promotion policy was introduced by the Ministry of Education, under the stewardship of former Education Minister Shaik Baksh, the need for an effective remediation programme was indeed emphasised.
So those who manage and administer our education system need to ensure that we have an effective remediation programme in place and, very importantly, that it is revised and upgraded as the need arises because sometimes this need is woefully neglected, much to the detriment of our students.
In the United States and Canada, remedial education is common at all levels of schooling, from pre-schools through colleges and universities. The most common remedial education programmes focus on developing students’ basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics.