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Class size in schools: For teachers, the real work is not just a ratio

Teacher-student ratios are well and good. Life at the coalface for these teachers, however, is not a convenient ratio.
For them, 40 pupils means 40 personalities, 40 sets of varying abilities, 40 sets of homework, and possibly several dysfunctional families to contend with as part of the work.

Class size in schools: For teachers, the real work is not just a ratio

In the report, “Wheels set in motion for attitudes toward academic success to change: Ong Ye Kung” (March 28), Education Minister Ong Ye Kung pointed out that “the 1:40 teacher-student ratio in a classroom is actually 1:15 for primary schools in terms of the overall numbers of teachers and students in a school”. And that the ratio is even lower for secondary school (1:12 or 1:13) and junior colleges (1:11).

I was the one who posed the class-size question to the Mr Ong from the floor, having recently spoken to about 15 teachers, mostly from secondary schools, who teach English.

This was during a conference at the Regional Language Centre (RELC) in town.

These teachers each have to, on a daily basis, manage classes of 40 or even 44.

Teacher-student ratios are well and good. Life at the coalface for these teachers, however, is not a convenient ratio.

For them, 40 pupils means 40 personalities, 40 sets of varying abilities, 40 sets of homework, and possibly several dysfunctional families to contend with as part of the work.

We cannot allow this to continue if we value our teachers, especially those who are passionate about educating our children.

Friends tell me that many graduates go into teaching only to leave as soon as their bond is over to become private tutors.

Is money the only factor in this?

Or do teachers derive a greater sense of reward and satisfaction when they see their students improve from whatever point they start, and this is more likely and evident in the tuition sector where the (much) lower teacher-student ratio allows them the space and freedom to customise teaching —not control, manage or discipline — according to the needs of the student?

At the forum, Mr Ong tried to persuade parents and employers that it is not grades alone that matter; that employers should “assess people based on their skills, experience and passion”. Yet, at the RELC conference two weeks ago, we were told that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will only recruit from the top 15 per cent of each cohort, presumably in terms of grades, thus exacerbating the teacher shortage.

How else might we maintain or enlarge the pool of teachers?

I will suggest that the Government at least pilot smaller classes in schools located in the heartlands.

See if this would attract more new graduates and those who joined the tuition industry to return.

Compare outcomes in student learning with those from larger classes.

Start a longitudinal study to see how well these students do five, 10, 15 years after they leave those schools.

I have no vested interest in this debate other than feeling very strongly as a Singaporean that every child is a “gift to the nation”.

To identify the gift in every child, whether this be in sport, music, dance, design, enterprise, innovation, and not just in academic achievement, a class size of 40 just would not do.

Otherwise, please explain to me why else would the MOE cap the class size for the Gifted Education Programme at 25?

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