Original Research

Overcrowded classrooms – The Achilles heel of South African education?

Joyce West, Corinne Meier
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 10, No 1 | a617 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v10i1.617 | © 2020 Joyce West, Corinne Meier | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 January 2018 | Published: 30 April 2020

About the author(s)

Joyce West, Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Corinne Meier, Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: The South African education system is characterised by a shortage of teachers and inadequate school infrastructure which is contributing to the overcrowded nature of South African classrooms. The current national learner–educator ratio (LER) is 33:1, and some classes have even reported an LER value of 50:1 and higher. The South African LER is more than double the average of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s international average of 16:1.

Aim: This research has been conducted to identify overcrowdedness in classrooms as a factor associated with poor academic achievement.

Setting: A qualitative research approach served this study best when an investigation was launched into the impact of overcrowded classrooms in the Foundation Phase in the Tshwane-West district.

Methods: The study’s sample comprised 10 purposefully chosen participants who are knowledgeable and experienced in the field of teaching in overcrowded classrooms in the Foundation Phase. The participants included heads of departments, primary school principals, higher education lecturers and a department of basic education official. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with each of the participants.

Findings: Based on the findings, the impact of and challenges (such as didactical neglect, discipline issues and negative teacher attitudes) related to overcrowdedness was elaborated on, and practical recommendations were made regarding possible solutions.

Conclusion: This study conclude by emphasising the importance of a combined effort between all role players, such as the School Management Teams and the teachers, when dealing with the challenges posed by overcrowdedness.


challenges; fight or flight response; learner–educator ratio; overcrowdedness; stress; school management teams (SMTs); teachers


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