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Overcrowding as a metaphor for declining educational quality

By Iyabo Lawal (Lagos) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
14 July 2022   |   2:44 am
Wearied eyes, the brows dripping of sweat. The sweltering heat worsened, but they remained packed in a classroom that could hardly contain them, waiting for the teacher to arrive.

Wearied eyes, the brows dripping with sweat. The sweltering heat worsened, but they remained packed in a classroom that could hardly contain them, waiting for the teacher to arrive.

The midday sun hit them harder, and they had no alternative than to wipe the sweat off their faces with the sleeves of their uniforms. The collars of their uniforms had become blackened by the accumulation of sweat at the nape of their necks.

By the time their teacher entered the classroom, the children were already tired and struggling to stay awake.

“Okay class! I don’t know how we’re going to have an afternoon period with everywhere so hot. You should tell your parents to tell the government to build classrooms and not prisons,” he said.

The teacher scribbled some homework on the chalkboard – class ended for that day.

According to a report by the Data Centre of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, of all the 189 countries, Nigeria is among four nations with the highest number of overcrowded classrooms in its secondary schools.

Increase in pupils’ enrolment in Nigeria’s public schools is a major concern to all stakeholders with classrooms bursting at their seams. Though governments at various levels claim they’re making efforts at getting out-of-school children back into class, stakeholders argued that there is no commensurate attempt to improve infrastructure and build more schools, and classrooms and recruit more teachers.

According to experts, when overcrowding occurs, it may contribute to the wear and tear of schools and the intellectual capability of pupils.

The actual number of students recommended by UNESCO for a single classroom is between 30 and 35 and any classroom that has an extra student is considered to be overcrowded and not good for learning and teaching.

An educationist, Thomas Linus, said overcrowding in most schools has made it impossible to achieve good teacher-pupil contact. He said in many schools, he witnessed a student population ranging from 70 to 100 pupils per classroom, being taught by a single teacher, adding, “this does not auger well for quality education as the best pupil-teacher ratio should be 35 to 45 pupils in a class.”

Linus added that quality education could not be achieved under such overcrowded conditions and appealed to the government to provide facilities to promote quality education

Emmanuel Aminu, a Senior Secondary School student of Foundation College, Ijora, Badia, Lagos, disclosed that students in almost all classes from A-G in the school have no seats to sit, except for the science students who have seats due to their small numbers.

He said: “We in the Science department, SS1A and SS1B have seats. But others in Arts and Social Sciences rarely have enough seats.

“In SS1B, we are 92 in a class, while SS1A has 91. For other departments, I can’t tell you their numbers because I am not in their classes.”

At Itori in Ogun State, the experience students shared was appalling, as about 1,000 students studied in a dilapidated building until Oando Foundation came to their rescue and built a block of six classrooms for them.

However, the Ogun State government has started moves to tackle overcrowding in public schools. Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Abayomi Arigbabu, said the decongestion would boost the academic performance of students.
“The present government has been able to tackle overcrowding issues in public schools, through screening examinations into 42 flagship schools and placement of students into other schools. I believe this will go a long way to aid teaching and learning activities,” he said.

For Thomas Odunlami, a public analyst, education in Nigeria has remained underfunded at different levels, and as such, little attention is paid on building new classrooms and refurbishing old ones.

Odunlami said the fact that many public secondary teachers are underpaid, and some are not paid as and when due, showed the inability of successive governments to pay detailed attention to the issue of education in Nigeria.

“In spite of efforts by the government to improve secondary education in Nigeria, the need to address the issue of class size deserves urgent attention. While there is yet no universally agreed ratio of students to teachers in classrooms among educationists, with such rather depending on other factors like age of students, the expertise of teachers, availability of learning materials and others, educationists view class size as an important component of teaching and learning.

“The right class size aids both students-in areas of learning, educational achievements, school retention), and teachers (in achieving job satisfaction, imparting learning and impacting educational development); governments (in the achievements of its national educational goals), and the society at large (with a pool of ably educated school leavers). Also, good class size helps schools in attracting students, as many parents and guardians would always go for better-administered classrooms for their wards.”

He lamented that many Nigerian public schools do not meet the right class size standard, and called for an urgent solution.

“Addressing the class size conundrum in public schools demands concerted effort on the part of the government, which owns the schools. To this end, declaring a national emergency on the nation’s public secondary schools, especially in constructing new schools, and new classrooms, providing educational materials, introducing the use of microphones where necessary, and addressing the issue of teachers’ remuneration and employing new ones, would reduce, if not stop, overcrowding and its negative effects.”

Two Nigerian scholars, A.O. Akinsolu and J.B. Fadokun shared their thoughts on the challenges of overcrowding in classrooms and how best teachers could handle the situation.

“Shortage of classrooms and teachers in Nigerian schools needs to be treated as a national crisis worthy of the attention of both the Federal and state governments. This will go a long way in ensuring a national target for school enrolment. A lasting solution is the building additional classrooms and employing more teachers.

“A ratio of one teacher to 35 students is hereby suggested. On the coping strategy skills of teachers, a more positive approach is to establish some formality in class activities right from the beginning of the lesson. This could be in form of class routines and conventions that will keep the students busy as soon as lessons start. Finally, seminars and workshops should be organised for teachers to sharpen their skills of teaching.”

NOTWITHSTANDING the efforts made by the Oyo State government to reposition the sector through various reforms, many schools in Ibadan have between 40 and 50 students per classroom.

At Ibadan Boys High School, it was gathered that there are over 60 students in a class.

A teacher told The Guardian that the school is crowded because of its location and the fame it enjoys as a notable school.

The teacher said: “In my class, there are over 60 students. In another class, there are over 40 students.”

When asked if the government has built or renovated any classroom in the last few years, he said: “I am not sure about that. Any renovation was done maybe by old students of the school. What the state government is doing is to give exercise books and textbooks.”

At Government Secondary School, Orita Aperin, Ibadan, it was observed that about two classrooms have about 50 students each. At Methodist Secondary School, Bodija, there are about 45 students per classroom.

At Monatan High School, Olode, Ibadan, there are about 40 students in the classroom.

At Christ Church School, Orita Aperin, Ibadan, there is no new building or blocks of classrooms constructed in the last three years. At Government Secondary School, Orita Aperin, it was gathered that a structure was built during the administration of Senator Rashidi Ladoja. Since then, there is no renovation and no new building added. The roof of the old building is almost blown away.

At IDC Pre-Basic and Basic School, Ajobo, Ojoo, in Akinyele Council. It was observed that the school needs renovation, some classes were closed down, and there were open roofs in parts of the building. The school’s toilet was renovated last year by a corps member.

Nonetheless, at Nawar-Ud-Deen Basic School, Elektro, Ibadan, there is a classroom built about two years ago.

However, stakeholders in the sector have been speaking about the state of the schools. They include Dr Muyiwa Bamgbose, an educational administrator; Miss Theresa Ogar, a private school teacher and Prof. Olajumoke Familoni, a human capital development expert and education administrator.

On her part, Miss Ogar said: “Students need to be in a conducive space to assimilate properly what is being taught. Since more can be achieved, I would like to admonish appropriate quarters to do well in improving the infrastructure of the learning environment of our children.

“A school with an untidy dump site or broken roofs and ceilings in 2022 shouldn’t be seen anymore.”

Prof. Familoni said: “It is not good for learning. The number of students per classroom should be around 20 to 25. Aside from learning, it is not good healthwise. There can be pandemics. The number of students in a classroom needs to be regulated and enforcement carried out. The government needs to build more schools and infrastructure.”

Bamgbose said: “Naturally, a crowded classroom is a waste of resources. Teachers do not get results and students do not get results. It affects the acceptability of learning, because there are so many people around it that disturbs the flow of communication. It also prevents teachers from adequate feedback.

“In learning, there have to be interactions. When there is a crowded situation, people get lost in the crowd. The teacher is sometimes overworked,”

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