Ninety-four Grade 7 pupils were crammed into a stuffy classroom at JG Zuma High School in KwaMashu the day the Sunday Tribune visited.
The school is just one of many in KwaZulu-Natal which is experiencing overcrowding, severely comprising the quality of education.
Pupils at JG Zuma sit two and three to a desk, with a lucky few having a desk to themselves. The hot and stifling classroom had no fans, with only a few small open windows letting in fresh air.
Pupils in the front row sat a few centimetres from the blackboard, forcing the teacher to stand to one side. Every available space was crammed with desks.
The heat, and the lack of individual attention, left the pupils restless. Some even slept on their desks while one budding entrepreneur did a roaring trade selling lollipops from her bag at R1 each.
Pupils passed the money along to her and the lollipops travelled back along the same chain, unseen by the teacher. Another pupil beat-boxed silently to himself, nodding his head to the rhythm.
Only seven of the 20 pupils who were called to present their oral during the hour-long lesson were prepared. The remaining 13 stood in the front of the class, silent.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune after the lesson, a clearly exasperated Chigozie Enyanwu said while she tried her best, the children sometimes didn’t even bother.
During the lesson she repeatedly told the class to be quiet, eventually calling two noise-makers to the front of the class to kneel next to her as punishment.
She admonished the class at the end of the lesson, saying, “It is embarrassing and disappointing that at your age you are unable to follow simple instructions. I don’t know what to say to you. We can’t chase you around to do your classwork and homework – you are going to high school next year.”
Enyanwu, who is originally from Nigeria, said having a large class was a challenge and created problems when you could not control all the pupils.
“In Nigeria classes are no bigger than 35. Now the average class I teach is 60. Despite the challenges, I intend to continue teaching and making a difference,” said the teacher, who holds a Master’s degree.
While the largest class at JG Zuma, which has grades 7 to 12, numbers 105, other classes average 70 pupils.
This situation is not unique to JG Zuma, as a number of popular and preferred schools deal with an enrolment crisis.
Parliamentary questions posed by the DA to KZN Education MEC Senzo Mchunu revealed that:
- 42 schools have more than 90 pupils a class.
- 254 schools have an average class size of more than 60.
- 934 schools have an average class size of 55 and above.
- 680 schools have more than 40 pupils a class.
- 13 schools, affecting 2 134 pupils, have no classrooms at all.
Principals who spoke on the condition of anonymity said while overcrowding was a huge problem, the blame was not with the department.
The principal of a well-performing school in Inanda said rules were clear that classes should have between 30 and 35 pupils. He blamed insistent parents for the overcrowding, as they refused to take no for an answer.
“They want their children to go to schools with good reputations. They exert so much pressure that we are left with little choice other than to accept them, even if we don’t have space.”
His average class size is 60, although he has a class with 80 pupils, adding three children sharing a desk was the norm.
He said while they were overcrowded, poor-performing schools stood empty.
“The department doesn’t need to build more schools, it’s about attracting people to those empty schools. My school is popular because we have a good pass rate and instil strict discipline.”
Another principal from Umlazi said schools enrolled more pupils than they had available space this year.
“Our classes are full. We should have 30 to 40 pupils a class, but have 60 and sometimes 70 in a class. Teachers are trying to do their best, but we need space, we need more classrooms. We have the available teachers,” she said.
The three Grade 7 classes at JG Zuma High School are among the largest at the school and have 86, 90 and 94 pupils respectively. The school uses three classrooms at a neighbouring primary school to accommodate them.
A further three classrooms at a neighbouring building are also used to accommodate the pupils.
Acting principal TK Ngcobo said they had 1 539 pupils and only 24 classrooms, adding that they needed a larger school urgently.
“We have made the department aware of our situation. In the meantime we will continue doing our best and maintaining our high matric pass rate, which was 97 percent last year.
“We have a good team of teachers who won’t stop working because of these conditions. Parents send their children here because we have a good pass rate. Our choir is also renowned,” Ncgobo said.
Education Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi was adamant the problem was not widespread.
“The district admission committees are managing and facilitating fair distribution of pupils. In some schools they allocate classrooms for other purposes such as libraries, instead of teaching. Migration to urban areas is another cause of overcrowding.”
Learning is difficult in overcrowded classes, believes education expert Graeme Bloch.
“Teachers bear such terrible burdens, which is why we have to think hard before declaring teaching an essential service. A very good teacher could handle a large class, but unfortunately not many of our teachers are trained to handle this.”
He said teachers and the KZN education department were looking for solutions.
DA spokesman on education Tom Stokes said quality teaching could not happen in such conditions.
“The heat alone is a factor. It is no wonder our children are failing. This problem is related to school infrastructure and poor school management.”
V Gani of the KZN Parents Association said school governing bodies employing teachers should reduce class sizes, but it was an expense not many schools could afford. - Tribune