First lady Melania Trump tours a school in Lilongwe, Malawi, on Oct. 4. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters) (CARLO ALLEGRI/Reuters)
Reporter

Talk about big class sizes.

First lady Melania Trump was in Malawi on Thursday and toured a school that has more than 8,500 students and 77 teachers for them all. Each teacher works with an average of at least 110 students, according to the Associated Press.

Trump, on a solo trip of African countries, was in the capital of Lilongwe and visited the Chipala Primary School, which is said by officials there to be one of the country’s best.

Malawi struggles with infrastructure problems in its education system, which is free but not compulsory. Children sometimes learn outside, under trees, because there aren’t enough formal classrooms for all the students. A key education goal of the government of Malawi is to reduce class size.

The AP quoted Bright Msaka, minister of education, science, and technology, as saying that Chipala is one of the best schools in Malawi.

The White House issued a release (see in full below) about the visit that said Trump toured classrooms, observed an English lesson and met with teachers, parents and school officials.

Class size is a real issue in many U.S. schools as well, but the numbers are considerably lower than in Malawi. Though some insist that class size isn’t an important factor in student outcomes, a review of the major research on the subject found that it actually is. It said:

The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future.

Some of the largest teacher-to-student ratios in the United States are in Nevada, according to the National Education Association, where some high schools have as many as 50 students in a class.

The Tampa Bay Times published an article about class-size struggles in Pasco County, Fla., where officials are looking for ways to make classes smaller. It says:

A recently created report indicates hundreds of classrooms across the district that exceeded the constitutional caps by at least one student. School Board members said they had received calls of classes with 40 or more students — a situation most prevalent at Fivay High, which absorbed more than 500 teens from Ridgewood High and did not fill all its teaching vacancies.

A recent post on this blog cited statistics about some class sizes in North Carolina, including:

38 10th-12th graders in AP German class, no planning period (Guilford)

39 freshmen through seniors, Math 4 (Union)

40 high school students in a trailer for Math 3, Title 1 (Mecklenburg)

42 students in Math 2 (New Hanover)

43,  eighth graders in healthful living. Only have 40 desks, when all are  present, one sits at teacher’s desk, the other two sit on the floor  (Wake)

44 students American History I (Onslow)

45 kids  in physical science. The majority of them have taken the class before,  class includes many students with learning disabilities and students  classified as seriously emotionally disabled. (Mecklenburg)

The Detroit News published an article with this headline: “Class sizes raise concerns for Mich. parents, districts, teachers.” The first anecdote in the story is about a boy who is in a third-grade class with 30 students rather than what he had in the past: classes with just over 20 children.

It is worth noting that some statistics on class size can be misleading, because schools provide averages of teacher-student ratios that include specialized teachers and other educators who don’t have their own classrooms. As a result, regular classes may have more students than a school reports.

This is what the White House reported about Trump’s visit to Malawi:

First Lady Melania Trump arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, known as the “warm heart of Africa,” on Thursday afternoon.  Mrs. Trump was greeted at the airport by the First Lady of Malawi, Gertrude Mutharika, and her granddaughter, who handed Mrs. Trump flowers.  Children and dancers performed at the arrival ceremony.  

The First Lady traveled to the Chipala Primary School, and was greeted by the Minister of Education, Science, and Technology, Bright Msaka and the Head Teacher, Maureen Masi.  Over 8,000 students attend the school.  The facility has 22 classrooms with an average class size of approximately 106 students per class.  The First Lady toured the classrooms, observed an English lesson, and later met with teachers, parents, and local school management.  

At a textbook handover ceremony, the First Lady discussed the importance of educating and empowering youth and lauded USAID’s continued efforts to increase access to education for children in Malawi.  Before departing the school, Mrs. Trump stopped in the schoolyard to watch students play soccer with a few of the soccer balls that she donated.  Along with the soccer balls, the First Lady donated other Be Best items including tote bags with classroom supplies inside for the teachers, as well as Frisbees for the children.

“The growth and success of a country starts with educating our children,” said First Lady Melania Trump.  “I want to thank the teachers and children at Chipala Primary school for today’s warm welcome and commend the staff for their commitment to providing their students the education and tools needed to grow and to be able to contribute to a prosperous society.  The positivity and passion to learn was so evident in each classroom, and I appreciate the time everyone took to show me around the school.”

Following the school visit, Mrs. Trump met with Ambassador Virginia Palmer and the Embassy staff, thanking them for their service on behalf of the United States and their continued efforts in Malawi.  Mrs. Trump is the first United States First Lady to visit Malawi.

Mrs. Trump then visited First Lady Mutharika at the State House.   The two had a productive discussion around the importance of ensuring education and resources are available for all children.  The visit also included a cultural performance on the rooftop garden of the State House.   

“Thank you to Professor Mutharika and the many other key leaders in Malawi who made me feel very welcome today.  This visit showed me the warmth and kindness of Malawi and the incredible efforts that support the growth of education for children.  I look forward to returning to Malawi in the future.”