The following is a Chinese article reproduced from my submission to WP’s Hammer article published in December 2014. The English translation is provided for your convenience.
在美国田纳西州进行的“学生与教师成就比率”研究项目(Tennessee STAR – Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) 和在威斯康辛州实行的“学生教育成就保证”计划 (Wisconsin SAGE- Student Achievement Guarantee in Education)也都显示出较少人数的班级对学生的认知和非认知学习成果有着正面的效应。这些正面的效应在学生整个的学校生活中持续不断。其他研究也显示出较少人数的班级能让来自家庭背景比较不好的学生受益。
随着生育率的下降，从教育部的统计数字来看，报读小学的人数一年比一年少。以2012年来说，小六学生人数有将近4万9千名，相比之下小一和小二学生人数每个年级则少于3万9千名，差别为1万名学生。反观教师的人数则一直在平稳增长。从事教育服务的教师人数已经从2009年的少于3万人增加至2012年的3万1千8百人，预计在2015年将会达到3万3千人。在所增加的教师人数中，其中的一部分学校会灵活地决定分派担任一些特定的职务，比如“学习支援计划” (Learning Support Programme)，指导学习进度比较慢的学生，一些时候甚至安排一班里有两名教师。
Towards Smaller Class Sizes in School
Most schools in Singapore have a class size of 40. Since 2005, Primary 1 and 2 classes were progressively reduced to 30 students. While this is encouraging and is in line with the call by the Workers’ Party for smaller class sizes, it is still large compared to the OECD countries’s average of 21 students per class.
Various research projects overseas have noted the positive effects of smaller class sizes. The Brookings Institution noted that large class-size reductions can have significant long-term effects on students’ achievement. These effects seemed to be largest when introduced earlier, and for students from less advantaged backgrounds. The Tennessee STAR and Wisconsin SAGE projects also demonstrated the positive effects of smaller classes on students’ cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. These effects persisted throughout the school life of the students. Other studies also show smaller classes have benefited students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
There are drawbacks to the large class sizes we have in Singapore. Teachers have to deal with more disciplinary and administrative issues, while weaker children risked being marginalised because the teacher’s time is divided amongst all students.
Class size reduction is not the magic bullet to better student development. It has to be implemented together with other holistic policies. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has repeatedly emphasized that teaching quality is more important than smaller class sizes. Certainly, teaching quality is important and investments in this area are well justified. However, the time is right for us to also plan towards having general class sizes that are smaller as well.
With falling birth rates, it appears from MOE statistics that the cohort of students in primary school is getting smaller each year. In 2012, there were nearly 49,000 students in primary 6, versus less than 39,000 students per level in primary 1 and in primary 2; a difference of 10,000 students a year. In contrast, the number of teachers has been steadily increasing. The Education Service has grown from under 30,000 education officers in 2009 to 31,800 in 2012 and is projected to reach 33,000 by 2015. Some of the increases have been and will be used by schools to decide how the teachers will be flexibly deployed in specific situations, such as for Learning Support Programmes for the slower learners and sometimes to have two teachers in a class of 40.
The best time to do the planning for smaller class sizes is now. With increasingly smaller student enrolment, we may not need many more teachers than what MOE has already planned to recruit. We can start to move towards smaller class sizes, say starting at 30 students per class from primary 3 and 4, and then gradually moving towards that ratio for primary 5 and 6. This would also necessitate some re-design of the physical infrastructure in schools to have more classrooms. The ratio can be further reviewed at a later stage to aim to reach the OECD’s average.
The smaller class size will also allow teachers to better understand individual students. This is even more important now as Singapore move towards a more holistic character and values-based education system. Also, an oft cited reason for parents to have tuition for their children is because they feel teachers are not able to provide the attention needed by their children to catch up with our demanding syllabus. It will also help make classroom management easier for teachers, who may otherwise not be able to pay attention to the weaker students.