Mmegi Online :: Class size and the student: Teacher ratio in Botswana: The 2018 case from the BOSETU lens
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Friday 17 August 2018, 13:30 pm.
Class size and the student: Teacher ratio in Botswana: The 2018 case from the BOSETU lens

The Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) has observed the above captioned situation with keen interest and sorrow.
By Correspondent Fri 19 Jan 2018, 15:14 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Class size and the student: Teacher ratio in Botswana: The 2018 case from the BOSETU lens

We rightfully occupied our rightful social space first as a civil society, second as teachers cum parents and thirdly as stake holders and interested parties. As a result of this foregoing sentence, the following occurred:

Scholars have repeatedly maintained that the principal roles of a civil society in any healthy democracy is to watch and limit how state officials use their powers, to expose corrupt conduct of public officials and lobby for good governance as well as to develop other values of democracy (WHAT CIVIL SOCIETY CAN DO TO DEVELOP DEMOCRACY.

For the purposes of this article, I would limit my scope to these three (3). It is public knowledge that BOSETU has repeatedly and tirelessly preached against the student – teacher ratio that has been increasing gradually over the past years.

We have long warned the government through the Ministry of Basic Education that this increasing student – teacher ratio and/or class size has some future negative effects on the general quality of our education and indeed encouraged the participation of the entire citizenry against this.

To strengthen our case, we lobbied for the implementation of the recommendation of the Revised National Policy on Education (here in RNPE) of 1994 which recommended forty five (35) students per class at Junior Secondary Schools and thirty five (30) at senior secondary.

This advice and warning had always fallen in deaf ears and it could only be mentioned mutedly by ministers and education officials. Mind, you the government has a duty to listen to us, for as long as we are reasonable and within the confines of the law.

At this juncture, it is very important to underscore the point that this situation was never corrected until it reached its current worst form that we find ourselves in right now, in spite of our tireless proactive efforts to prevent it. But for so long as it is still our duty, we will never tire away nor shy away.

We are teachers and parents at the same time and we know that who feels it knows it best. As teachers, we are the implementers of the curriculum and we know the difficulties of this vocation. We did advise accordingly but whoever had powers decided otherwise.

If this is not palpable use of one’s powers, what else would qualify to be palpable use of powers? Again, we are middle class parents whose children most attend government schools and thus any worse situation in government schools would affect us directly. None would say we did not play our part, we did and we will continue to.

We further urge the entire society to join hands with us and fight to save the future of our children. That is why we will continue to shout at our highest pitch against this, because we are directly affect at BOSETU.

Now let me unpack the whole concept of class size, its possible effects on the equality of education and offer some tentative solutions or suggestions to lessen this burden. In pursuing this task, I will limit my attention to Junior Secondary Schools in Botswana.

Class size as the phrase readily suggests, is the number of students per any given class. On the other hand, students – teacher ratio would mean the total number of students divided by the number of teachers who teach them, to determine how many students each teacher would have.

For simplicity, if there are four hundred and fifty six (456) form one students who enroll say for Mathematics, and there are six teachers of Mathematics to take those classes, then the students – teacher ratio would be determined by 456 ÷ 6 = 76 students per teacher. For purposes of this article, class size and students – teacher ratio will be used interchangeably.

Having explained the concept, I know proceed to explain the optimum students – teacher ratio or class size and the effects of anything contrary to that. According to the literature collected by our office so far, the trend is that the developed world recommend a secondary class of around twenty (20) students.

It is important at this stage to highlight that class size is most importantly determined by factors such as, classroom size or space, availability of infrastructure (class rooms and some equipped laboratories), availability of human resource (teachers and other support staff) and the nature of subjects (practical or theoretical), to mention but a few.

According to the Establishment Register and the RNPE, class sizes in any secondary school in Botswana may not exceed 45. This is two folds greater than that of the developed world but is understandable and arguably reasonable.

The optimum class size is the one that allows a teacher to have time to attend to individual students needs in an allocated teaching duration.

In our case, we teach either for 40 minutes or 80 minutes in the case of a single lesson or double lesson respectively. Now the question is, is any one capable of giving attention to each individual student in 80 minutes in a class of 45? If the answer to this questions Yes, then the class is optimal and if the answer is No, then it is not.

It goes without mention that the answer is No because if you are to attend each student in 80 minutes in a class of 45, then each would definitely get less than two(2) minutes. Therefore, the


students – teacher ratio that is recommended in Botswana is not even optimal although we are prepared to improvise and work with it at BOSETU.

This obviously shows that we are way too far from getting closer to the optimal class size or optimal students – teacher ratio.

We at BOSETU advocate for a lower students – teacher ratio and our position is informed by the following reasons inter – alia:

i)Teachers will have time to prepare for and indeed attend to individual student’s needs as they are few students in class and thus ample time for them.

ii) Teachers would promptly give feedback because there would be a few scripts to be marked by an individual teacher.

On the contrary, our class sizes have grown to surprisingly high numbers as shown by the table below:

The information above saw the Ministry of Basic Education releasing a press statement that acknowledged this situation. Let me hasten to note that this press release did not have any solution nor any suggestion on how to alleviate the problem neither did it have any administrative purpose, it was just meant to appeal to the soft minds of Batswana and soothe them to accept this horrible and pathetic situation as normal.

Our visit to some of the hard hit schools revealed that indeed the ministry officials knew of this problem as early as 2016 or before. Meetings between the schools’ administration and the officials were held. The usual rituals of unfulfilled promises were also performed. Literary, nothing has been done and the only promise that seems to be practical is that chairs and desks will be availed by the week beginning on the 15th of January 2018.

Now the comedy and the joke of the decade is that seventy six (76) chairs and desks cannot fit in any classroom in our schools. Some of the targeted classrooms are outdoor teaching areas with a full capacity of only thirty (30) students. What else can be done? Is this a state of emergency?

Not at all, unless you want us to believe that population growth is an emergency and an accident that occurs unexpectedly. This truly shows that the problem was deliberately ignored as though a supernatural solution would just magically emerge, and we are yet to witness that!

If the situation remains as it is, these would be the possible hazards.

Students will not fit in any classroom and therefore teaching and learning will not take place. Our office is in possession of a correspondence from one of these schools addressed to the Education authorities reporting that there would not be able to start this term if the situation is let as it is. Now that it is evident that some vital information was ignored by decision makers, what should school authorities do?

To cram pack the students into any available space would be the second desperate measure to address the situation. This can only be possible if they may fit without desks, I doubt though.

l If they fit, the impossibilities of teaching and learning to take place would be a given. Surely effective teaching and learning cannot take place where there is not even a space for a teacher to stand. Again, if a teacher finds his/her way in, the only option left for him/her would be the lecture methods of pedagogy, which have long been proved to be ineffective and consequently discouraged.

l Air – borne diseases and some other health threats such as depression would be very eminent and prominent and the whole exercise will come to the nation at an exorbitant price.

If teachers and school managers just helplessly watch the situation, then they risk losing their jobs as they are there to make sure that teaching and learning take place. What a night mare!

As a trade union, we submit the following suggestions; Government must relook at its priorities and be commited to basic education by either constructing new schools or expanding the existing schools by building new classrooms and laboratories. The Ministry of Basic Education should provide some caravans to temporarily shelter the students as classrooms.

In the event the idea in above proves to be too expensive, students may be transferred to nearby schools that are not over populated. The government would then be tasked with provision of transport to help the affected students and parents.

In conclusion, BOSETU finds it to be an exceedingly expensive expectation on the concerned schools to be burdened with the task of hunting for the solution to the situation. In our lens, this is a national crisis and calls for our consolidated efforts.

We urge all the interest groups to join hands and mount pressure on the government to act wisely. If the provision of a basic right such as education is deemed to be too expensive, what else would be provided? What would be the purpose of the government then?

Julius Nyerere of Tanzania when addressing the Food Agricultural Organization’s conference in 1976 once said, “These days, where there are no wars, the sole purpose of the existence of any government is to fend for its people.”

This quote sums it all. Our government must fend for us through provision of education, shelter, food and other needs and we have the duty to demand such, if we are unreasonably denied the opportunities.


*Thomas Uaetehuno Kajuu is BOSETU’s secretary for secondary sector

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