A Shithole Education!

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Overcrowding of schools, a growing epidemic

The P250m Isaac Kgosi and Bakang Seretse diverted from the petroleum levy fund can build 832 classrooms while P440 million from the ‘phantom’ ESP is enough to build 733 blocks or 1466 classrooms

SONNY SERITE

The English Dictionary describes ‘shithole’ as an extremely dirty or otherwise unpleasant place. Ask any student or teacher about their views on having to spend the whole day in a crowded classroom and they will tell you how unpleasant and devastating it is. Chances are they will use the same expression as now infamously used by US President Donald Trump- a shithole.
Public (Government) schools re-opened for learning last week Tuesday and while their counterparts at private schools will need just ten minutes to catch up with all their 15 classmates, students at public schools will need the whole week to finally round up their 60 classmates.
By the end of the week, teachers at private schools will be calling their new students by their names because, well, they have only 20 students in class to care of, while their counterparts at public schools have to get acquainted to at least 60 new faces per class of Standard one or Form one (new intakes), and are unlikely to learn their student’s names despite their best efforts.
In an ideal world, class sizes would be capped at 15-20 students.  Each student is supposed to occupy 1.5 square metre of space in a classroom. Unfortunately, in Botswana classrooms now regularly exceed 45 students, and it is not uncommon for there to be more than 60 students in a single class. Classroom overcrowding has sadly become the new normal despite the Ministry of Education acknowledging it as one of the major contributors to poor performance in schools.
“The ministry is aware that this problem has contributed to declining results in Botswana,” stated Richard Mathare, an official of the Ministry of Education and Skills Development. He told the public accounts committee (PAC) hearing in 2014 that government intends to resolve the problem of high teacher-students ratio, which has contributed to declining examination results. Four years later, the situation has gone from bad to worse. At the time, Mathare said the teacher-students ratio ranged from 45 to 50 students per teacher in a class. The ratio now ranges from 50 to 60 students per classroom.
Twenty five years ago, in 1993 government setup a commission on education, led by former legislator Ponatshego Kedikilwe. The Kedikilwe Commission recommended, 25 years ago, that there is a need to reduce the number of students per teacher.  The Ministry of Education has not implemented the recommendation of the Kedikilwe Commission; not even a bit. In 2014 the ministry promised to reduce the number of students per classroom from 50 to 30 but as it stands, the ministry has only managed to increase the number to 60.
Most, if not all public schools in the country are grappling with the serious issue of overcrowded classrooms. In Botswana, this problem is a combination of an increasing population against a decrease in funding or put bluntly, lack of political will to prioritize budgeting on education. In other words, the country is producing more students while at the same time failing to increase infrastructure and resources despite its allocation of the largest amount of P6.80 billion or 17.2 percent of the total Ministerial Recurrent Budget for 2017/2018.
Problems Created by Overcrowded Classrooms
Derrick Meador, a renowned American school administrator who has written extensively on the negative effects of student overcrowding, has described how teaching in an overcrowded classroom can be frustrating, overwhelming and stressful.
An overcrowded classroom presents challenges that are nearly impossible to overcome. There is a trickle-down effect that has a tremendous negative impact on the quality of education that even the most effective teachers can provide their students.
There is not enough of the teacher to go around. Students perform better when the teacher is able to give one on one or small group instruction on a regular basis. As classroom size increases, this becomes increasingly difficult to do. An average standard, a sixty minute class in which the teacher provides whole group instruction for twenty minutes leaving forty minutes for individual instruction, a class size of fifteen could receive an average of just over 2 ½ minutes of one on one instruction. Increasing that size to twenty students would cut that time to 2 minutes. Increasing that size to thirty students would cut it to less than 1 ½ minutes. Increasing it to forty students would cut it to exactly one minute per student. Increasing it to fifty students would cut it to a few seconds which would be useless for one on one interaction with a student, as a learning process.
Increased indiscipline
Overcrowding increases classroom discipline issues. More students provide more opportunities for personality conflicts, tension, and general disruptive behaviour in a stuffy classroom where temperatures can reach 42 degrees during the day. Even the best teachers find it difficult to manage an overcrowded classroom successfully. Teachers often find themselves spending more time managing their classroom than they do teaching.
Struggling students fall further behind.
The brightest minds in each class will likely be able to get what they need no matter how many students are in the class. It is average and below average students that will struggle to learn and advance in an overcrowded classroom. These students need more direct instruction, one-on-one instructional time, and minimal distractions to maximize their learning potential.
Standardized test scores suffer.
For better or worse, schools across the country are deemed effective or ineffective based on their standardized test scores. Many teachers would argue that there is an overemphasis placed on test scores especially in public schools. The chance of successfully proving proficiency on a standardized test decreases as the number of students in the classroom increases.
Increase in noise
The overall noise level is increased. This is an expected result when you increase the number of students in the classroom. Louder classrooms translate to distractions making it more difficult for students to learn and for teachers to teach.
Teachers’ burnout
Teacher stress is increased often leading to teacher burnout. More students translate to more stress. Teachers already have a difficult job with lots of pressure. Many excellent teachers are opting to leave the profession because it is not worth the stresses they deal with on a daily basis.
Overcrowding leads to less access to equipment and technology.
Space is already at a premium for many schools and there often is not enough room to accommodate specialties such as a science or a computer lab. A science teacher would find it hard to conduct experiments safely with forty students in a laboratory meant for twenty.
Lack of personal connections
Most of people have certain teachers who always stand out in our minds as having made a difference in their lives. In a class with thirty-nine, let alone 60 plus, other students the impact would have been minimal or none due to divided attention and lack of individual interaction.
Are We A Nation That Does not Prioritise on Education?
In 2016, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, proposed P14.82 billion as development budget for the 2016/17 financial year. From that amount, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development received a proposed budget of P1.09 billion of which P440.35 million was for the construction of teachers’ houses, classrooms and laboratories under the controversial Economic Stimulus Package- ESP.
The same year, Gaborone City councillors had condemned overcrowding in primary schools. Councillor Tshepo Moloko of Diphetogo ward decried lack of classrooms in most of the primary schools in Gaborone. Councillors said overcrowded schools are a serious problem in many areas as students found themselves trying to learn while crammed into spaces never intended as classrooms, such as libraries, school hall, under tree shades where weather conditions become unfavourable. Shortage of classrooms has always been at the centre of every debate on education in Botswana.
In one of his deliberations in 2016, Gaborone Mayor Kagiso Thutlwe had promised that they would collaborate with other stakeholders in the education sector to address the issue of teacher –student ratio as a way of improving the quality of education in schools. This was after he revealed that there were 26 classes that were taught in open areas with no shelter at all, in the capital city, Gaborone. The question that can now be asked is, where is the P440.35 million that was allocated for the construction of classrooms under ESP?
A quick research by this publication has shown that P440 million is enough to build around 733 blocks of classrooms. A block makes for two classrooms built back to back. According to the ongoing money laundering case P250 million was disbursed for purchase of anti-poaching equipment. Government could have constructed 416 blocks of classrooms had the Petroleum funds been diverted towards building classrooms instead of being diverted towards anti-poaching initiatives that already enjoy considerable funding through the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conversation and Tourism.
Additional reporting: Derrick Meador attended Oklahoma State University where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education – Middle Level Science. Derrick also attended Northeastern State University where he earned a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership.

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