A reply by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has laid bare that the government has no legally-binding policy to ensure public school classrooms are not overcrowded.
“There are currently no legislated norms and standards for learner-to-educator ratio in public schools,” Motshekga said in a recent reply to written parliamentary questions.
Norms and standards were a policy instrument that the public could use to hold the Department of Basic Education to account. They became effective after the minister promulgates them.
It was generally believed that the department had a teacher-learner ratio benchmarked at about 35 learners per teacher in public school classrooms.
But Motshekga has effectively clarified that the learner-teacher ratio was not departmental policy. The department applied the “ideal maximum class size” principle, she said.
“The post provisioning norms apply what is referred to as ideal maximum class size for each subject which ranges from six learners per class in the case of music, to 37 for subjects that accommodate large class sizes,” said Motshekga.
“These are ideal measures that the sector strives to achieve through continuous improvement in providing resources.”
Public school overcrowding has been a thorny issue in South Africa for years now.
Two schools in Gauteng were recently shut down by parents protesting about overcrowding.
Finetown Secondary School, south of Joburg, was shut down for two days last month by parents angry about its overcrowding. Parents demanded a solution for the overcrowding of the school which consists of 63 prefabricated classrooms.
Sediba sa Thuto Primary School in Mamelodi East, Pretoria, was reportedly closed for two weeks by parents frustrated about its overcrowded classrooms.
Khume Ramulifho, the DA’s Gauteng education spokesperson, conducted an oversight inspection at the school and reported that the situation there was not conducive to learning.
“The classrooms are severely overcrowded,” Ramulifho said last week.
“There are 74 learners per classroom and the environment is not conducive to learning and teaching. It is unacceptable as our learners are being denied the dignity of learning in an adequate environment.”
Motshekga said actual class sizes at schools were influenced by several factors.
“These include, among other factors, availability of classroom space; distribution of learners within and across grades; an increase of learners in certain geographic areas; time-tabling; and school size,” said the minister.
She added that the department strived to address overcrowding. “Improving the class size towards a subject-specific ideal class size is an ongoing process.”