Managing an overcrowded class

16May 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Managing an overcrowded class

The fifth phase of the Government of United Republic of Tanzania has embarked on an ambitious plan to ensure free basic education is provided to all school aged children in the country.

A Tanzanian overcrowded class.

As a result it has been reported in the media that this year’s Standard One enrolment rate in many schools across the country has tripled comparing to last year’s enrolment rate.

For instance, it was reported that at Kilamba Primary School in Mbagala, Dar es Salaam, the school usually enrolls between 250 and 300 Standard One pupils, and for this year they targeted to enroll about 400 Standard One pupils.

However, this year’s enrolment for Standard One pupils has reached 630 pupils! If you add with continuing students, the school may have more than 1,000 pupils.

It should be noted that according to the Education and Training Policy, a standard classroom size is 40 to 45 pupils per classroom.

A sudden rise in enrolment rate is a good sign that many parents were eager to send their children to school but fees and myriad contributions became huddles for them to do so.

However, on the other side, this high enrolment has created an urgent need for a number of needs including infrastructure, teaching and learning materials as well as additional teachers.

It was further reported that Kilamba Primary School in Mbagala, Dar es Salaam has only four classrooms for Standard One.

Therefore, a classroom which was previously accommodating maximum of 50 pupils; is now accommodating 155 pupils!
The above mentioned school is just one case among thousands of primary schools across the country with large classroom sizes from Standard One to Standard Seven.

There are cases where a classroom size may reach 180, which may be difficult for learning to take place effective. This article is providing some tips to teachers in this situation on how to manage large classroom sizes.

Talking of large classroom sizes reminds me of challenges I faced to manage large classrooms, when I started teaching at Yombo Primary School in Ilala District, in Dar es Salaam at early 1990s.

I taught classes with 80 to 160 pupils. The classes were too congested such that I did not know how to use teaching techniques I learnt in Teachers college. This was so demoralizing as I could not reach all pupils especially slow learners.

However, with time by reading a number of literature and mentorship from experienced teachers, I managed to acquire skills to manage congested classrooms.

I managed to provide close support to pupils to learn effectively by acquiring relevant skills and knowledge as well as performing better in their internal and national final exams.

In addition, when I was undertaking postgraduate studies (Masters of Arts in Education) at University of Dar es Salaam, between 2003 and 2005, I was assigned by Professor Kalafunja Osaki, to teach a course and supervise seminars on ‘Classroom Interaction and Management’ for Undergraduate students taking Education courses. Among topics in this course was providing skills on how to manage large classroom size.

I felt that many teachers at this time of implementation of free basic education face challenges in managing congested classrooms. Moreover, despite government’s efforts to curb the shortage of infrastructure, we do not expect that there may be sudden changes in class sizes within a short time. It may take even years to curb the challenge of infrastructure shortage.

Therefore, teacher will continue to face challenges unless they are empowered to work in such conditions until solutions are found.

So I felt with support from various literatures and my personal experience, I decided to provide some tips which may help them to cope with this challenge and ensure their pupils perform better.

Teachers often complain, not without reason, about teaching large classes. These unlucky teachers not only suffer from the pedagogical shortcomings of large classes, but also from the stress these classes produce.

But people may ask themselves, what are problems with large classroom size? It may not be possible to draw ultimate conclusions about student achievement based on class size alone, since other variables such as the quality of teachers, students degree of motivation and the role of the parents may come into play, large classes result in some of the following challenges:

(a) The teacher may be required to make extra effort toward managing the class;
(b) With a large class, it is difficult to get a satisfactory knowledge of individual student’s needs. Intimacy with students and remembering names might be a problem. Therefore, pupils with learning difficulties may not be able to get support from their teacher;

(c) As a consequence of the large number of students, the noise level and frequent disruption due to need to control naughty pupils, is inevitably high which adds to the stress teachers may experience;

(d) Organizing, planning and presenting lessons, may constitute another challenge for teachers in such classes as students abilities might differ considerably;

(e) There is a challenge on learning process. In fact, engaging learners actively in the learning process may not be easy in a crowded class;

(f) School resources such as infrastructure, computers, books and so on, may be over utilized or insufficient, therefore create acute demand for such resources;

(g) Teachers and their supervisors might find it difficult to measure efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and learning process and its outcomes;

(h) A congested classroom may not be healthy in terms of creating psychological pressure or students and teachers, extreme heat (in humid areas) as well as their physical well-being therefore, they may not be able to concentrate especially when air ventilations are few. Moreover, infections of airborne diseases may be spread easily among pupils.

Despite mentioned challenges, Teaching large classes is a challenge, but it can also offer many opportunities for you to improve your teaching and to make it more enjoyable and rewarding for you and your students.

You may have the opportunity to improve your organizational and managerial skills as you work to creatively organize your classroom into a comfortable, welcoming learning environment and to manage the many students within it.

Large classes offer you the opportunity to improve your interpersonal skills as you try different ways to get to know each student as an individual through their work in class or their lives outside of it. They will also equally enjoy getting to know you.

Large classes give you the opportunity to improve your teaching and presentation skills. As the teacher above mentions, constantly lecturing to a large class, or even a small one, can become boring and bothersome. The value of a large class is that it contains a diversity of pupils and learning styles, and you can use many different, active, and fun ways of teaching.

Teachers will agree that it is very challenging for a teacher to deal with large classes. However, there are a number of useful techniques to use in dealing with such a challenge. The following tips may be useful to teachers in such a situation:

(a) Allocate pupils in small groups of five to seven students. And when working in groups, it would be beneficial for students to sit around in a circle so that everyone could have a chance to participate. Ensure that the assignment you give clarify active roles for each pupil to avoid some of them to stay idle;

(b) Pairing weaker students with stronger ones might be an option unless you fear the weaker students feel intimidated. Pair work may be also a good alternative to practice conversations, exercises and other language activities;

(c) Changing the classroom desk arrangement to take into consideration the large number of pupils is a good idea. Finding out the right arrangement is up to the teachers’ creativity and classroom size. Anyway, desk placements should make cooperative work easier;

(d) Provide priority and optimize your work with pupils with learning difficulties, give them seats in front of you, closer to you so that you can spot difficulties easily while teaching;

(e) To reduce stress and noise level, set simple rules for class management, such as acceptable behavior for everybody to observe when working in groups, in pairs or individually. In addition, train your students to deal with classroom chores;
(f) Teachers in large classes may also want to request support from fellow teachers, who can play the role of teachers’ assistants;

(g) Whenever possible, you may use technology. Technology ensures that everyone has time to connect with the teacher;
(h) Prepare your lessons to ensure that they are activity oriented rather than long lectures. You may also ask many probing questions to various pupils across the classroom to ensure their level of understanding of the topic.
A number of scholars argue that teaching a large class is challenging as it is pedagogically unacceptable and psychologically irrelevant.

These classes involve, most of the times, mixed abilities, language levels, motivation, needs, interests, and goals. Nonetheless, it is possible to teach and manage such classes, if relevant techniques such as proposed above are applied.

The writer is a specialist in educational planning, policy, economics and finance. He is reached through: [email protected] or +255754304181.