Newsletter 243 - School Development & Improvement Planning 2006-2009 - PART 19




The critical issue of class size has been recognized as a major challenge to education provisioning and modern and contemporary schooling. Part of the debate is the difficult trade-off between affordability (access) and quality of learning and teaching.
Worldwide states are being confronted with the question of the most desirable and affordable class size. In South Africa class size has become the prickly pear or one the stickiest issues of our schooling system. Africa generally speaking has proven to be the anomaly with class sizes in the range of 50-70 learners with perceived “good and acceptable” level of classroom discipline … the flip side being a autocratic system of coercion.

SA currently has an average class size, as provided by the state and excluding topping-up by rich schools, between 40-45. In poorer communities the reality is more like 50-60 … but this must be viewed more as an exception rather than the rule. Other anomalies and factors within the education system further distort this ratio and result in this large and undesirable exception.
For the poorer schools and the educators and managers that are serving them, reducing the class size is seen a panacea and a good beginning to begin to address most of their problems. The call or need to reduce the class size are underpinned by both the view that it constitutes the
? root causes to the problems experienced within poor schools
? and is symptomatic of and adding to other problems experienced within poor schools.
Whichever point of departure, the issue of reducing class size must be considered in terms of the following matters raised by the debate;
? Affordability
? Availability of resources e.g. educators, classrooms, equipment, furniture
? Impact on learning and teaching
? Impact on classroom socialization
? Social cohesion
? Educator : learner ratio
? Reduction from 40-45 (poorer schools 50-60) towards what?

What remain undeniably are the fact that large classes contribute significantly to the erosion of social cohesion, good and positive classroom management and socialization. International research further suggests that for a direct and positive effect, class size should desirably be reduced to 20-25.

Given the South African context educators and managers have identified a desirable class size as 35 learners. In the Western Cape alone the direct staffing cost to reduce the current class size to an average of 35 will be R500 000 000.00 (+- 4000 educators – on average an additional 3-5 educators per school). Let see if we can rise to the occasion!

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