Lagos Public Schools Battle Overpopulation, Crowded Classrooms Stifle Learning

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Public schools in Lagos State are grappling with the challenge of overpopulation, hampering effective learning by pupils. SAMUEL BOLAJI, who visited public schools across the state, reports
Mrs. Deborah Akande’s children have always attended public or government-owned schools in the Ikorodu area of Lagos where she lives. She refused to join the bandwagon when private schools became popular among parents in the neighbourhood. By sending her children to public school, she didn’t have to worry about tuition and that meant a lesser financial burden for the family. But in September this year, Akande withdrew her children, Ayo and Femi, from the public school and took them to a private school.
“My daughter, Ayo, who has just been promoted to SS1, has been complaining about how difficult it has been for her to learn. There are over 100 students in her class, and she said learning had been very difficult there,” Akande explained in an interview with The PUNCH.
“Even though I don’t have much money, I had no other choice but to withdraw her and her brother, Femi, who had similar complaints, from the school.
“I have now enrolled them in a private school, and that’s because I want the very best for my children,” Deborah said, heaving a heavy sigh.
Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial hub, is the most populous state in the country. Despite its relatively smaller land mass, the state is home to over 20 million persons. The implication is that there is pressure on public infrastructures or utilities, and public schools are not an exception. Amid soaring student enrollments and limited resources, Lagos public schools are facing unprecedented challenges that threaten the quality of education and the future of its young learners.
Like Akande, another parent in Ikorodu, who gave her name simply as Mrs Benson, said she could no longer resist the urge to withdraw her son from public school when “I noticed that my son had lost interest in reading. He no longer looked motivated to study.”
“Tobi was very enthusiastic about education when he was in primary school. He was always among the first three in the class.
“I could not continue financing his education in private school when he left the primary school, so I enrolled him in a public secondary school,” Benson, who is a single mother, said.
But she said she started to notice a decline in Tobi’s performance after his Junior Secondary School first third-term results were released.
“I couldn’t sleep all through that night. It gave me countless sleepless nights,” she added.
After poorer performances in two subsequent terms, worried Mrs Benson decided to speak with Tobi to understand what the problem was.
“My boy told me that there were too many in his class. He said he was struggling with paying attention to what was being taught. He told me that some students in his class also used to bully him, which made him stay away from classes several times.
“He told me he was fed up with the school, and I had to beg him to complete the session so that I could figure something out.
“He is now in SS3 at a private school and his performance has improved since I withdrew him from the public school a few years ago,” Benson said.
Several parents are faced with similar situations across the state, and many students are unable to get quality education owing to overcrowded classes in public schools across the state.
An overpopulated state
Lagos is known for its rapid urbanisation and population growth. Recent estimates put the population of Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre at over 20 million. This surge in residents’ population has led to a surge in students enrolling in public schools. As a result, classrooms are bursting at the seams, and school infrastructure is struggling to keep pace.
A report by Bscholarly, an education website and online resource centre created to help students all over the world in their academic pursuits, noted that “The rapid explosion of the population of Lagos from just a few thousand people to 22 million people occupying the 452 square miles of the city is unprecedented.
 This unprecedented growth has far-reaching consequences. The effects of Lagos’s overpopulation are dire. The facilities and amenities that were put in place many years ago for the few people living there have been stretched to their limits and beyond by the excess number of people living there now.”
The education system is not spared from the effects of overcrowding in Lagos.
According to the Lagos State Annual School Census Report 2018-2019, there are 1,082,634 pupils in Lagos. The number of public schools across the 20 local government areas and 37 local development council areas is 1,692. The report also said the state had a total of 26,462 teachers in all its public schools. But findings by our correspondent revealed that in most cases a typical classroom has over 100 pupils.
Over a month, our correspondent randomly visited public schools across the states. Among those visited were Oreyo Grammar School, Ikorodu; Zumratul Islamiyyah Junior Grammar School, Ikorodu; Araromi Ilogbo Senior Secondary School, Oko Afo, Badagry; Epe Girls Senior High School; Local Government Primary School, Igando; Ereko Methodist Primary School, Lagos Island; and Comprehensive High School, Alapere, Ketu.
It was observed that in some cases, well over 120 students were in a classroom.
In a classroom at Zumratul Islamiyyah Junior Grammar School, Ikorodu, our correspondent observed that there were about 42 three-seater desks.  Although there were a couple of empty desks, and some not having up to three students seated on them, a rough headcount revealed that about 107 students were being taught by one teacher in a single classroom at the time of the visit.
While teaching was going on, it was observed that only the students sitting close to the front of the class paid relatively full attention to what was being taught. Those sitting around the middle of the class were often distracted by side talks, while the students at the back were completely cut off from the teaching as they were not paying attention at all.
Also, the teacher appeared to be more interested in giving his attention to the students at the front than those sitting towards the back.
Speaking with The PUNCH at the end of his lesson period, the teacher, Mr Kehinde Adegbola (not his real name), said it was practically impossible to give each student attention in such a large class.
“This is my third period today,” Adegbola said, adding “I’m exhausted, but that’s the job I signed up for.
“It is practically impossible to give every student the required attention. So, we often focus on the few who are paying attention in class.”
Another teacher, who appeared stressed and with a cracked voice after a lesson period, said, “Teaching is a calling, but it’s heartbreaking to see so many eager faces in the classroom and know that I can’t give each student the attention they deserve.”
In Oreyo Junior Grammar School, Ikorodu, a teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the average student population of the class he teaches is 100.
“Sometimes I teach a class of 120 and sometimes around 95,” he said.
He noted that an average of 500 students were given admission into the JSS 1 class of the school in the 2023/2024 academic session.
“We have five classes for the JSS 1 student – 1A to 1E, and an average of 100 will be in each class.
“For now, all the admitted students have not been registered because many of their parents are still trying to sort out the issue of tax clearance. Once that is done, we will have a large class,” he added.
Asked about how teachers manage such large classrooms, the teacher, who said he had been in the teaching service since 1999, told The PUNCH that “since we can no longer discipline the students, we try to manage only those who are willing to learn among them.”
He stressed that “those who sit at the front in the class are the ones who are likely to get the teacher’s attention during a lesson period. Students at the back are in ‘school two’ and most of them do whatever they like.”
He lamented that it is sometimes difficult to grade students’ scripts appropriately in such a situation.
“It is difficult when it comes to grading. We give classwork and homework, and we want to grade each student. We also race against time to meet deadlines because there is still a test and there is an exam to grade at the end of each term. Giving appropriate grades when one is exhausted is difficult.
“What I do sometimes is to put my students in groups and make them work together. That way, whatever grade the group work gets, each student in the group gets it. However, the problem with that is that some students will not participate fully in the group assignment, so, effective learning will not happen.
“I’m a subject teacher and I teach all classes from JSS 1 to 3. For example, I have a class with JSS 2A in my next period. JSS 2A has approximately 100 students. I will teach JSS 2B the same topic some other time, and so on. If I teach an average of 500 students per level and I teach three levels, JSS 1 to 3, how do I grade the works of such a huge crowd?
“Many of us are exhausted, but we only stick to this job because it is our passion. Others stick to it because there are no jobs out there,” he lamented.
A non-teaching staff in the school, who also did not disclose her name, advised our correspondent not to consider enrolling his children in a public school, saying “It will be a wrong decision if you do.
“Indeed, I work here but look at the infrastructure. Look at how the classes are overcrowded. How can students learn well in this type of environment? How will teachers even enjoy their job with the kind of stress they go through every day?
“If you are planning to bring your children here, please don’t try it. Private schools are far better. Public schools are overcrowded in this part of the world.”
Student-teacher ratio
Student to teacher ratio is the number of students who attend a school divided by the number of teachers in the school.  The National Policy on Education recommends a student-teacher ratio of 25:1 for pre-schoolers, 35:1 for the primary school level and 45:1 for secondary schools (the recommendations were 20:1, 30:1 and 40:1 respectively as of 2004 before the recent adjustment).
A classroom is said to be overcrowded if it exceeds the stipulated number in the benchmark. None of the public secondary schools visited by our correspondent in Lagos was implementing the recommendation of the National Policy on Education.
Students express worry
Some students also expressed worry over the quality of education they are receiving from overcrowded public schools.
Bolu (not her real name), a 13-year-old student in Comprehensive High School, Alapere, Ketu, told The PUNCH that she faces the challenge of concentration in class because of how noisy her class is.
“It is too noisy. I can hardly hear what the teacher is teaching. Even when I try to concentrate, the noise keeps distracting me and no one is doing anything about it,” she said.
She added that she shares her desk with two other students, one of whom is too playful and the other a bully.
Our correspondent observed the level of uncontrolled noise in one of the schools visited. While it was a lesson period, the noisy atmosphere made it look like break time. A teacher was seen screaming at a large crowd of students in a class for her to be heard.
Another student who simply gave his name as Qudus said he had lost interest in academics.
Fourteen-year-old Qudus said he was considered a dullard in the school, adding, “But I know I’m not a dullard. I may not be quick in grasping what I’m being taught, but that’s because I get easily distracted. This school is not helping me at all, and my parents don’t understand my plight.”
The story is the same for several other students of public schools who spoke to our correspondent.
Consequences of overcrowding in public schools
Overpopulation in Lagos public schools has far-reaching consequences. The most immediate is the strain on resources. Textbooks and learning materials are in short supply, and school buildings are deteriorating due to the sheer volume of students. This overcrowding also affects the overall quality of education, with students struggling to focus and teachers unable to provide personalised instruction.
“Public schools are purpose-built,” said the DG, Office of Education Quality Assurance, Seriki-Ayeni. According to her, they are built with large spaces compared to their private counterparts.
However, our correspondent observed during his visit to some schools that some large classrooms were packed with more crowds than the capacity of the structure. Broken desks were also observed, with many of the students standing during lectures.
Speaking briefly with The PUNCH, a teacher in Ketu, who pleaded anonymity, said, “There are never enough materials to cater to the learning needs of the mammoth crowd we have in our classrooms.
“There is also pressure on physical infrastructure, including desks and the buildings themselves. But what can we do?”
Speaking with our correspondent, an education consultant and Founder/CEO, of Florish-Gate Global Consult, Dr Dideolu Adekogbe, said, “From the term overcrowding, that already gives a negative view of whatever it is.”
Giving her thoughts on the problems associated with overcrowded classrooms, Adekogbe said when “the classroom is filled up to the brim, that is, more than the required number of children, there’s definitely going to be problems. There is going to be a problem of health. There is going to be a problem related to psychology. There’s going to be a problem of emotion, temperament, and so on.
“There will also be a problem of bullying. You know, some children are bigger and they feel even if three of them or four are to sit in a place, they occupy a space for two and they expect the other three to look for another place. Practically, I’ve seen some of the children not sitting, and some just using one part of their bum. You know, they are bullied.
“Bullying comes in; health issue comes in, you understand. And then when all of this happens, definitely education cannot happen. The children are already psychologically disturbed.”
She added that irrespective of the teacher’s expertise in classroom management, the process of imparting knowledge will be defeated in an overcrowded classroom owing to the non-conducive teaching and learning environment that such a circumstance presents.
“The effectiveness of the teacher will already become eroded because one lecturer cannot handle too many students. When you are talking about the average number of students in classrooms, they shouldn’t be more than 35 to 40. So, when you start having 50, 60, 100, 120, there will be issues.
“I’ve been allowed to work with an NGO and visited some schools and saw they were crowded. There is no way the lecturer could handle such a crowd. They tried to be very creative in their arrangement of the classroom, but it wasn’t easy because for every class, for every child, there must be room for movement, ease of movement, standing up, moving your hand, moving your back, picking up something from your bag, from under your locker, and you now want to get up to go to the restroom. For any of them to get up to want to go to the restroom, the whole classroom will be disrupted. The entire lecture room becomes rowdy.
“So, it’s a lot of stress. The effectiveness of the lecturer is put under a big challenge; so, the lecturer cannot be effective. The lecturer cannot be writing and talking, teaching and then managing the class at the same time.
“Then learning becomes an issue. Classroom control becomes an issue. And if the lecturer is under stress, you know, the students are also under stress,” she said.
Speaking on the menace of hooliganism and gangsterism in public schools, Adekogbe said, “Overcrowdedness breeds hooliganism.”
She stressed that the lack of proper attention to students owing to overpopulation in public schools gives room for rascality which leads to gangsterism and hooliganism among the students.
“They start that rascality from bullying in the classroom. So, they look at themselves and say, ‘How many of us in the class? We can form a gang’. They know themselves and they position themselves at different points and different lockers and benches,” she said.
She further stated that the situation gives “more room for radicalism and misbehaviour. And so, for them, the moment the bell goes for break, they go for break and some never come back (to the class). And then they look for ways to go and position themselves at strategic points. They could even be threats to teachers themselves at whatever level, even from primary to secondary.
“Some of them, yes, some of them could get up to become a gang and feel that the teacher, a teacher is too strict and assault the teacher.
“So, overcrowdedness, you know, breeds hooliganism. Yes. It breeds hooliganism, especially for children whose interest in learning was not high before and are now placed in that circumstance to readily shift the attention from learning, you know, to those kinds of acts.
“And they become serious threats even in the neighbourhood. They become threats on the school premises. They become threats in their homes. They become threats to the point that principals may not even be able to manage them. So, overcrowdedness breeds hooliganism,” she emphasised.
Government is aware
The Lagos State Government attributed the exploding population in its public school system to the rapidly growing population of the state.
In an exclusive chat with our correspondent, the Director General of the Office of Education Quality Assurance, Mrs Abiola Seriki-Ayeni, said, “Lagos State, in particular, is the most populous state. Lagos is actually what makes Nigeria the most populous black nation. As the population of the state increases, there is also an increase in the number of children seeking admission into our schools.
“And Lagos being a state that welcomes and accommodates everyone from all walks of life, we will not turn away children of residents seeking admission into our public schools. What we will continue to do is work hard to manage the situation by building more schools to decongest existing ones and employing more qualified teachers.”
Addressing the overpopulation crisis in Lagos public schools requires a multifaceted approach. The Lagos State government is aware of the issue and has initiated efforts to build more schools and hire additional teachers.
The DG, OEQA, Seriki-Ayeni, during her chat with our correspondent, said, “The government is aware of the situation, and we are making efforts to solve the problem.”
“There is a constant argument on which is to come first; is it the access or is it the quality? And Lagos State is doing both. We’re not closing our doors to students, at the same time we know that if we have an ecosystem with private schools that are more regulated, that are more standardised, there will be education for all students.
“As a government, we will not sacrifice quality for anything. During this administration alone, our governor has placed a high premium on building more schools in areas where existing schools are overpopulated so that we can depopulate the existing schools, which hasn’t been done in a long while, and we’re rehabilitating the existing schools for students to learn more comfortably.
“The government of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is also employing more qualified teachers into the system to ensure that the quality of delivery in schools is not compromised,” Seriki-Ayeni said.
Also speaking with The PUNCH in a telephone chat, the Assistant Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Mr Ganiu Lawal, said the government is “upgrading schools, increasing the number of classrooms, and even establishing new schools where there are no schools before.
“We can count about six that are just established. In this session alone, I think four new schools took off this new session in places where there were no schools.
“All these are meant to reduce the congestion in classrooms as you have said. And the same government is doing more, identifying partners and giving more to education in its budget.”
As Lagos continues to increase in its population, addressing the overpopulation crisis in public schools should remain a top priority. A collaborative effort involving the government, educators, parents, and the wider community is essential. Increased funding, infrastructure development, and innovative teaching methods are crucial steps in ensuring that Lagos students receive the quality education they deserve.
Proffering solutions
Worried about the effects of overpopulation in Lagos public schools, experts and stakeholders have suggested some steps to be taken to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
Adegbola, who spoke to The PUNCH, said building more schools in rural areas and employing more qualified teachers will solve the problem of overcrowded classes in public schools.
“The government should build more schools, and in places where more schools cannot be built, let them build more classrooms.
“There are many of the existing government schools that have large spaces to occupy additional buildings. Some are large enough to occupy an entirely different school. The government should look into this.
“People are moving from the central business district to rural areas, and as they move, their children move with them. The government should shift its focus to rural areas in the state and build more schools. This will decongest the overpopulated ones around.
“It is also important for the government to continue to recruit more quality and qualified teachers. These students are our future and we must be intentional in how we handle their education,” Adegbola said.
Also speaking, Dr Adekogbe said the government needs to do more, adding, “There’s never enough of what you can do when it has to do with education.”
She advised the government to increase the funds allocated to education in its annual budget while decrying a situation whereby other ministries try to get some cut from education allocations.
She further stated that the Lagos State government should manage the spaces it has in communities where there are overpopulated schools by building additional schools in them to decongest existing ones, adding, “In each of those communities, they can still look for space to build more schools.”
She said where it is difficult to build more schools, the government should “collaborate with the private sector. Let there be a public-private partnership. The government can give grants to private schools in places where there are no public schools.
“So, look for private schools around, collaborate with them in giving them grants and in helping them to train their teachers.”
 The Punch

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