Teachers offer a unique insight into the practice of learner retention and the possible effects of retention on the academic progress and social development of retained learners. Learner retention is a custom that requires learners to repeat a school grade-level if they did not master the basic requirements stipulated by curriculum policy for a grade-level. Although the customary practice of learner retention is present in numerous school systems, internationally and within the borders of South Africa, a gap in the literature exists regarding the benefits thereof on learners’ academic progress and social development. Research studies conducted in Europe and America report the possible and observed negative effects of retention on learners’ development, with limited reported benefits. Still, it is evident in the literature that many teachers are of the belief that retention can be beneficial to struggling learners.
The aim of this qualitative study was to determine possible effects of learner retention on the social development and academic progress of learners, as experienced by teachers. To this end, the study’s primary research question is: What are the perceptions of teachers regarding learner retention and its effect on the social development of learners in the foundation phase? In pursuit of an answer, semi-structured focus group interviews, which yielded meaningful findings, were held with foundation phase teachers.
The study found that teachers strongly advocate for the implementation of learner retention in cases where learners do not meet the minimum curriculum requirements for a specific grade-level. Teachers report that learners perform better academically during their repeated year when compared to their initial year in that grade-level. Furthermore, teachers are more likely to implement retention if they have experienced positive results with previous learners. However, the teachers who participated in this study were aware that retention often leads to teasing amongst peers and can have negative effects on the social development of retainees. Owing to the findings of this research study, teachers, principals, parents, and policy makers are more knowledgeable of how teachers experience, justify, and implement learner retention in South African classrooms, and what the observed academic and social development effects of learner retention are within a South African context. Further research should be conducted regarding why teachers advocate for the practice of learner retention midst a literary domain that is against the practice. Also, the possibility that previous research studies overlooked possible benefits of retention on learner development or academic progress of retainees should be explored.