Overcrowding in our Schools: Social & Health Risks [Archives:1998/16/Health]

April 20 1998

By Nadya Al-Dhafari
There are many things written on the subject of the never-ending education problems. Overcrowding is one such pressing problem. However, hearing about the problem is different from observing it on the ground. There is a great deal of similarity among the state-owned schools, most common of which is overcrowding in the classroom. Some classrooms are clogged with as many as 150 students. On average, a classroom in a state-owned school has about 120-130 students, with a minimum of 90. Ministry of Education regulations stipulate that their numbers should be between 40-50 in a primary school classroom and between 45 and 50 in secondary schools.
To ascertain the extent of this problem, a number of teachers, principals and students were interviewed.
Ms. Aisha, Deputy Headmistress of a state-owned school in Sanaa, said: “Overcrowding frustrates teachers since it is hard to control so many students at one time, especially from the first year primary level to the sixth year. This has led to a deterioration in the students’ general ability to learn. Underachievers don’t get the attention they need, especially when they sit at the back of the classroom.
“Lazy students don’t do their homework or participate in class activities. So they rely on cheating when exam time comes, the only way they know to succeed.”
Ms. Amira, a teacher responsible for extra-curricular activities, said: “Most of the activities such as sports, sewing and drawing are practiced inside the classroom because of the unavailability of an appropriate place and organizing the tremendous number of students takes too much time. If the students are allowed to practice sports outside, they will cause much noise, disturbing everyone. Thus, the class period ends without any benefit to the students.”
Ms. Jameela, a science teacher, said: “Most science teachers do not conduct any laboratory experiments because of the large number of students. They might break the lab equipment, some of which are combustible. Therefore, a teacher might bring a lab set to the classroom if it is easy to carry and simple to use. This can work for other things, such as chemical experiments.

Reem Mansoor, a fourth-grade primary-school pupil, said: “I prefer sitting on the ground because it is not comfortable to share four chairs with six other students. I also do not not like to sit by the windows because of the cold.”
Hanan Abdullah, a third-grade preparatory-school student, said: “The large number of students represents a big problem for me and other female students. I can’t concentrate because of the many distractions. Some students sit in the back of the classroom to avoid showing their homework and to eat peanuts since the teacher cannot reach them.”Another student, Sahar, said: “Women teachers only pay attention to the students in the front. The problem gets worse when the teacher explains to a large number of students because we cannot understand the lessons.”
We find that overcrowding in the classroom causes serious problems such as:
1. The spread of contagious disease among students, as well as rheumatism and backache due to awkward sitting postures.
2. Some students force others to sit on chairs in the back of the classroom or on the ground. Mixed together, older students try to dominate younger ones.
3. Overcrowding obstructs teachers from classifying students according to their ages or conditions such as near-sightedness.
4. Some students sit on different chairs from the standard school desks. This could cause envy among students. Some parents are asked by the school management to bring chairs and tables for their children.
5. Overcrowding, particularly in the primary level, makes it difficult for teachers to do their job properly. In the first years of education, pupils need a lot of help to learn to read and write. This demands patience, effort and wisdom from the teacher. How can a teacher properly teach so many children to read and write at one time?
Construction of new, larger classrooms to help reduce overcrowding is a must. Bazaars must be organized for selling chairs and desks.