What is the impact of social promotion to students when they get to high school?

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By Stephanie Cairns

Social promotion (the act of passing a child to the next grade level despite not having filled all of the requirements) is a widespread practice across North America, and like almost anything to do with educating our children, is also extremely controversial. There’s no question that our education system is highly flawed, but whether social promotion plays a part in that inherent wrongness is hotly debated. Social promotion, as evidenced by its name, puts the primary focus on the child’s social well being. The argument is simple: holding a child back lowers their self-esteem and inhibits their social interactions with children their own age. The pro-retention supporters see things a little differently. They argue that passing a child to the next level when they have not sufficiently understood or grasped the concepts such as basic reading or mathematics will only hinder them in the long run, once again leading to lower self-esteem. They believe passing to the next grade should be a reward, and the fear of failing will push students into trying harder and succeeding. Both sides of the debate are partially right, but both sides are also very wrong.

   The two arguments hinge on a limited understanding of children’s psychology. Will a five year old truly be traumatized if he is held back a year? Will an eight year old be motivated to ‘work harder’ because of the threat of failure hanging over her head? And if she does ‘work harder’, will it really change the outcome of her grades when she is simply not able, at that point in her development, to comprehend the material presented?

   Then there’s the presence of ADHD, ADD, dyslexia; the list goes on. How do these factor into social promotion? And in the long run, will being held back or pushed forward while in kindergarten, really make such a crucial difference when that child becomes a teenager, a college student, a full-blown adult?

   Honestly, I don’t know, and I’m not sure we ever will. But one thing is for sure, children are all different, and while social promotion might work for Emma, it might not work for Emily or Emmett. No arguments that bases themselves off of the ‘social well being’ of children are ever going to be 100%, but they’re the only ones we’ve got, so let’s keep debating, keep thinking critically and deeply, and maybe one day we’ll have a school system that will cater to every single one of our children. Or at the very least, will let us finally beat Europe at those pesky excellence tests.

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, North America, Europe Canada

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  • Interesting
    June 22, 2014 - 09:48

    Very well written article and surprised people have not commented. Students should be judged on merit just as employees are done. In years past it was known that study was necessary and we worked harder to be sure we weren't left behind... This social practice might even be a major reason our education system is failing our students.

  • Interesting
    June 22, 2014 - 09:44

    Very well written article and surprised people have not commented. Students should be judged on merit just as employees are done. In years past it was known that study was necessary and we worked harder to be sure we weren't left behind... This social practice might even be a major reason our education system is failing our students.