On Thursday I visited a local primary school to observe early literacy (reading/writing) lessons and give teachers some feedback. I started with sitting at the back of P1 class (first year of primary). The day’s attendance was noted on the board – total: 126. There were four rows of benches (rather than the standard three), to try and squeeze in all the children present. The middle two rows were pushed together and were impassable. There were possibly a good 40-50 children that the teacher had no access to. There were about 10 children on the floor out the front of the class (no room left on the benches). I could see learning charts glued to the cement walls with my handwriting on them from three years ago (I guess the alphabet doesn’t really change, lol).
The teacher did quite an incredible job of managing those 126 children (without any assistance from another teacher). She beautifully followed all the steps we had trained her in and it was so encouraging to see children reading and writing independently on slates.
The pace of the lesson was slow – but that is to be expected How do you attempt to give 126 learners individual feedback day-in, day-out when you are the only one in the class? But she did a pretty awesome job of it! The teacher did comment on the class size, how it was difficult to manage (understatement), and if she had about 90 how much better that would be.
P2 was a similar story, although there were 110 children in the class, a little less crowded than P1. During my individual conversations with the teachers I enquired about the reason for the large class sizes. Both their responses matched my thinking: money. The school gets 5000 shillings each child as an ‘entrance/administration’ fee (£1.10, and around AUS$1.80). Schools also get a ‘grant’ from the government based on enrolment, at around 7500 shillings per child for the year (£1.70; $2.70). The more children in the school, the more money the school receives. Easy logic, simple motivation. Sadly, considering the impact class size has on the quality of education does not surface in discussions.
In Uganda, the pupil-teacher ratio is at 55:1 – 55 pupils for one teacher. Clearly 126 is a little over that and 126 was the number present that day – there were more than 140 on the register. Schools justify large class sizes by employing two teachers for one class, claiming that they can then double the class size and easily have 110 children in one class. But 140 is still well beyond that.
During my long discussion later with the school’s deputy on how to possibly improve reading and writing at the school; I ended with the discussion on enrolment. I enquired why the class size in P1 was so large and he replied that the school couldn’t deny children a place; they would be taken to the ‘authorities’ for denying children a place in the school. The irony is, you can also be taken to the ‘authorities’ for beating a child, charging school fees and having long school hours beyond the government timetable…