Class size: Effect on achievement in East and Southern Africa

Type Conference Paper - International Invitational Educational Policy Research Conference, Paris, France, 2005
Title Class size: Effect on achievement in East and Southern Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2005
City Paris
Country/State France
Class size has been an important issue in discussions and dialogue on quality of education as well as issues of financing education, especially teacher numbers and remuneration. As a result Class size has not only been one of the most researched topics in education but also a sensitive and almost politically emotional issue in many countries. In Africa, as many countries introduce and implement universal primary education, within contexts of scarce resources and hence low capacity to employ adequate teachers, class size is a major challenge for Ministries of Education and Finance. The quest of the optimal class remains a big challenge in balancing the pressure for improved quality which is believed to be linked with small class size and the fiscal constraints and conditionalities that prevail in countries with heavy donor support in financing education, especially primary education

Teachers, schools, parents prefer smaller classes because they are supposed to be easier to manage and offer better opportunity for teachers to pay individual attention to children, in the belief that children learn better in smaller classes and achieve higher.

However from previous studies, there has been no evidence that smaller classes perform better than larger classes. The studies have also indicated that different schools and even countries have different ways of organising their classes. Many of them place the poor performers in small classes and while small classes may have a significant effect on the achievement of disadvantaged children and poor performers this doesn’t seem to apply to better performing students. SACMEQ data offers the opportunity to identify the possibility of relationships between class size and achievement in Mathematics. In analysing the SACMEQ data, there is also the opportunity to provide empirical evidence to policy and decision making on class size to policy makers as they struggle with issues of quality and efficiency of the education systems.

This paper looks at SACMEQ data archive from 14 African countries to see whether there is any relationship between class size and pupil achievement in reading and mathematics in Grade 6. It will show that there are very many variables that affect achievement, and the fact that pupils in small class size might achieve better than their counterparts in large class, such achievement can not be wholly attributed to class size. There may be need therefore to research further on class size in relationship to teaching practices. Policy makers may also need to pay more attention to improved teacher quality through better recruitment practices and training of teachers.

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