Teacher shortage sees Lusikisiki school with 140 pupils in one class

AS pupils across the Eastern Cape settle into the new academic year, concerns have been raised over the size of some classes – with some Grade 1 classes accommodating on average 45 pupils.

Despite the Eastern Cape Education Department setting their teacher-pupil ratio at 1:28 – nationally at 1:35 – there are still teachers with far more pupils than the provincial average.

Some schools in the province’s more rural parts were found to have as many as 140 pupils in a class, mainly because of a crippling shortage of teachers.

At BJ Mnyanda Primary School in Kwazakhele there were about 50 pupils in a class in Grade 1.

Head of department at the school Veronica Maqokolo said the number could decrease as the year progressed, with some pupils dropping out.

“Grade 1 classes should be manageable in size, but there are often a lot of pupils being brought in at the beginning of the year and it gets difficult to turn them back,” she said.

Gelvandale’s Alpha Primary School secretary Eloise Neff said there were 40, 41 and 45 pupils in their three Grade 1 classes.

“There really should be about 30 pupils at the most and [the large numbers] affect kids in that they can’t get the right attention,” she said.

“There are also not enough teachers to break up the classes into smaller ones.”

Back-to-school visits by education department officials and members of the legislature’s portfolio committee on education uncovered a school in Lusikisiki with 140 pupils in a class.

Committee member and DA spokesman on education Edmund van Vuuren said they had made the discovery during their oversight visits last week.

“[District] officials expressed their desperation at the growing size of classes in rural schools,” he said.

“They are desperately seeking teachers to fill the 807 teacher vacancies in the district.”

Port Elizabeth child psychologist Ian Meyer said the ideal number of pupils for any class was about 30, but for Grade 1 classes 25 was the norm.

“In Grade 1 kids are at different levels of development and need special attention,” he said.

“It thus becomes difficult to attend to the needs of all the children at the same time.”

Meyer, however, also cautioned against classes that were too small, with about 18 pupils.

“That gives rise to problems of a social nature and issues of cliqueism, where pupils may have no place to hide should they fall out with one group,” he said.

Provincial education department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said overcrowded classes were “not that common”.

“You’ll find that some of these classes are overcrowded because of an influx of pupils from other areas,” he said.

“Parents tend to move their children to schools in different areas to those in which they live, resulting in dwindling numbers in those schools and overcrowding in others.”