News Schools

Overcrowded classrooms = Less learning

Michele du Plessis

In Edition 132 of GPS News, an article titled “First Day for Sabie’s grade 1’s” featured the following information: “Harmony Hill Primary admitted 53 learners to grade 1A and 51 learners to grade 1B.” The article was featured on the GPS News Facebook page as well.

Thakgalo Joy Malele, a Business Development Officer, commented on this post: “I’m worried about the number of learners per class in Harmony Hill Primary. Can the teachers really handle that huge number? Only if Sabie Primary didn’t decline our application because of a mere electricity bill.”

Is Ms Malele’s concerns regarding the class sizes unfounded? Research validates Ms Malele’s concerns…

In the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education published the National Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. In this document (3.24.) the classroom size denoted the total capacity a class can hold. The norms for a classroom size will be as follows:  Grade R – 30 learners and for all other prototypes 40 learners.

Average space per learner: Sitting space denotes the square meters each child will occupy: Grade R – 2.6m² and for ordinary primary and secondary schools – 1.2- 1.5m² per learner.  In a recent parliamentary Q&A session, the Department of Basic Education stated that, as of March 2018, the national average LER (Learner-Educator Ratio) for government primary schools was one teacher to every 35.2 students.

“The effects of overcrowded classrooms are far-reaching for teachers and learners. My personal investigations and observations when I visited and assessed student teachers undertaking their teaching practice at schools, convinced me that  the challenge of overcrowded classrooms and the management thereof is still largely unaddressed in South African schools and teacher training institutions.  In some schools, learners are sitting three or four to a desk meant for two,  thus obstructing traffic flow in the classroom and necessitating extraordinary tactics to move around,”  Petro Marais (2016), “We can’t believe what we see”: Overcrowded classrooms through the eyes of student teachers. South African Journal of Education.

“Overcrowded classrooms are unfortunately part of South African education, and will remain a part for the immediate future and perhaps even for the long-term future.  Large numbers of learners in one classroom are an impediment to classroom management in general, and classroom discipline specifically. Larger classes are noisier and more prone to pushing, crowding and hitting, to the extent that this can impact negatively on classroom discipline.  One teacher cannot cope with such situations in the classroom on his/her own. Teachers lose valuable lesson time in such circumstances because they spend most of the lesson time trying to control the learners. Little time is left for real teaching there are more opportunities to receive individualised instruction from the classroom teacher, and therefore, parents prefer smaller classes.  Parents believe that their children will perform much better in classes that do not have a large number of learners.” Petro Marais said.

“Teachers who teach in overcrowded classrooms instruction and integrated reading and writing  tasks, because instruction time is often wasted by administrative tasks, such as checking attendance lists, and managing behaviour, less time for actual instruction. Furthermore, learners cannot rely on individual care from teachers particularly in instances where learners need extra support,” South African Journal of Education, Volume 36, Number 2, May 2016.

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