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Does size matter?

By Sue Smith

The question of class sizes has once again been raised in the media. One of the reasons for the most recent interest in this issue is because of news out of Beijing. Beijing has announced that the Chinese government is making a commitment to reduce class sizes to 40 students in the next 3 years. While 40 students still seems to be too many, it should be remembered that classes of up to 60 students were not uncommon in the past. To get the number down to 40 now does seem to be a positive step.

But how does Hong Kong stand with this? There has been a lot of publicity about schools having to close due to falling enrolment numbers, when the government could take this opportunity to reduce the size of the classes Hong Kong children have to endure. Of course, primary school classes in Hong Kong are already under the 40 which Beijing is proposing, although it might surprise some people to know that 40 is not an uncommon number of students in Hong Kong secondary classrooms.

Is it important to look at class sizes? Ask the majority of teachers, and the answer will be an unqualified ‘YES’. One of the problems with large class sizes is that it is very difficult to change the teaching and learning style with so many students in the classroom. Teachers might be going to seminars and in-service workshops about small group projects, student- centred activities and active learning but these learning styles are almost impossible to effectively carry out in a room crammed with kids, where there is not even enough room for a teacher to manoeuvre between desks and where the noise level is rising due to student numbers. It’s much easier to adopt the chalk and talk method, relying on the text books and not trying anything unusual or unfamiliar.

Smaller class sizes would make a lot of the education reforms which the Education Department are committed to, much more successful because teachers would have more confidence of the success of these new approaches if they were not trying to practice crowd control as a form of education.

Dulwich College Singapore

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