Over the years the issue of class size in classrooms has been widely and closely looked at and often been correlated with learner performance. In Africa, the issue has been one of the many challenges facing education systems, due to poor infrastructure, limited schools and in some cases limited classes – this would force the school to crowd learners in one small class or sometimes under the trees.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), evidence on the effects of smaller class sizes is mixed, suggesting that they may only be beneficial for some students and under certain circumstances – and they come at a cost. In lower secondary education, funding the additional teachers needed to reduce the average class size by one student would increase the cost per student by around USD 300 per year on average across OECD countries, unless offsetting adjustments are made.
Their 2019 report titled ‘How much would it cost to reduce class size by one student?’ states the following;
“If countries want to reduce average class size and keep spending constant, they can finance this change through lower teachers’ salaries, longer teaching hours or shorter instruction time. Across OECD countries spending similar amounts per student, those with smaller class sizes tend to have lower teacher salaries. Given the high cost of reducing the average class size by one student, it is important to assess whether and in what circumstances the trade-offs are worth it.”
This would be very challenging in countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe where teacher salaries have always been a challenge. For them, having to reduce class size which plays a huge role in the productivity of the classroom is going to be something that has to be looked at deeply and differently.
According to OECD, results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that students in larger classes score higher in science on average across OECD countries.
With tight budgets, for some countries, reducing class size won’t be so much of a priority. Many countries may still choose to focus more on increasing teacher’s salaries over reducing class size.
Mduduzi Mbiza is a writer, content strategist, researcher, consultant and author of the book, ‘Human Education: The Voyage of Discovery’. He has contributed his articles on education to Daily Maverick, The South African, Voice360 and EduOne.