The student-teacher ratio in any school setting is vital, not only for the students, but also for the teachers. It becomes a nightmare when one teacher has 170 children to cater for at once, as is the case in LEA Primary School, Bwari and as reported by STELLA EZE.
Teacher-pupil ratio is all about class size. It is the number of teachers in a school with respect to the number of students who attend the institution. For example, a student-teacher ratio of 20:1 indicates that there are 20 students to every one teacher. The term can also be reversed to create a teacher-student ratio. In the previous example, the teacher-student ratio would be 1:20. A low student-teacher ratio is often used as a selling point to those choosing schools. On the other hand, a high student-teacher ratio is often cited for criticising proportionately under-funded schools or school systems. There is no specific recommended class size. It differs from one school to another, depending on the quality of teaching the school authorities want to achieve.
In Nigeria, the problem of over-crowded classrooms, from the kindergarten to university level is no longer new. The number of students in an average class in so many secondary and primary schools could be as high as 50; that is, a student-teacher ratio of 50:1 However, the case of Bwari LEA Primary School is an exceptional one. Teachers in the area council have cried out that they are overworked, with as much as 170 pupils in a class. One begins to wonder whether such classes are held in normal classrooms, or big lecture theatres.
The teachers, who made the revelation at a one-day seminar organised for them by the Youth Empowerment Education Initiative (YEEI), said this extra labour does not in any way attract extra monetary reward. They explained that over-crowded classrooms stretch a teacher too thin, while the pupils gain little or nothing from the teacher who is often distracted by the noise and those who are slow at learning.
A female teacher, who is under the Inspectorate Services, noted that teachers cannot perform miracles, especially where they are subjected to having to control crowds instead of teaching a normal sized, manageable class. She gave the example of how a teacher should be able to relate one-on-one with each pupil, to ensure the teaching process influenced them, but that such would never occur in a class that leaves the teacher confused and overloaded and facing his class becomes a nightmare. “How can a teacher be happy to prepare in the morning with a good spirit to teach in an over-crowded class? It is not in anybody’s interest that classes are oversized. The authorities have turned their eyes away and the teachers get the blame for producing vagabonds in the society. Why can’t we get our priorities right by getting the foundation of education right? If the teacher is provided an atmosphere that makes it possible for him to relate personally with each of his pupils, imagine what impression he could create on these children, compared to when the class is filled to the brim, with some children playing or even fighting while the teacher is talking.”
One of the participants, who complained bitterly about the burden teachers are carrying on their shoulders, yet they take the blame for the failure of education standards, said, “All the blame is put on the teachers when things go wrong. In a class where you have over 100 pupils, what can you do to attend to every one of them individually? My colleague even said he has up to 170 in his class right now, yet we get blamed for the collapse of the system.” The teachers, in their different remarks, noted that the council had allowed for such burden on the teachers, while their colleagues under the Universal Basic Education do less work and have a better pay package.
According to a teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being punished by his employers, classes with too many pupils are often disrupting to education, because the teacher hardly gets the attention of even half of the class. Also, too many students in a class results in a diverse field of students, with varying degrees of learning ability and information intake. Consequently, a class would spend longer waiting for slower students to assimilate information, when that time could be better spent progressing through the curriculum.
The supervisory counsellor for Education in Bwari Area Council, Muhammad Yinusa, told LEADERSHIP Education that he was not aware of such situation, but said he would confirm the allegation raised by the LEA teachers.
The issue of students’ ability to work effectively in groups as opposed to wasted time, chatting and peer-teaching is a complex and controversial issue. Arguments in favour of lower student-teacher ratios are that fewer students per class assimilate complex subjects such as physics, mathematics and chemistry better than those with a higher ratio of students to teachers. Commonly, the schools with lower student to teacher ratios are more exclusive. The manifold arguments and controversies of funding and student-teacher ratios have been the basis for a multitude of studies and debates.
Many analysts have found that extra school resources play a negligible role in improving student achievement while children are in school. Yet many economists have gathered data showing that students who attend well equipped schools grow up to enjoy better job market success than children whose education takes place in schools where resources are limited. For example, children who attend schools with a lower pupil-teacher ratio and a better educated teaching staff, appear to earn higher wages as adults than children who attend poorer schools.