Another dot in the blogosphere?

Variability obscured by a spreadsheet

Posted on: March 31, 2019

I try not to roll my eyes whenever I read this repeated claim:

Another hot topic raised at the forum was whether MOE would consider reducing class sizes from 40 to 25 students to allow teachers to give more attention to their charges.

However, Mr Ong 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, with the ratio reduced for secondary school (1:12 or 1:13) and junior colleges (1:11).

This latest iteration was reported in this news article.

One public response to this claim was Class size in schools: For teachers, the real work is not just a ratio.

Take a straw poll among mainstream school teachers with classes and very few will report they have classes of those sizes. (I am excluding special needs teachers, counsellors, teaching adjuncts, etc.)

Do the ratios account for every education officer, even the ones on extended leave or pursuing professional development? Do they include every possible teaching intervention, i.e., from individual coaching to mass lectures? If so, it is possible to get such ratios on a spreadsheet.

Personally, I have seen class size rise instead of fall. I teach at university level and this semester my classes swelled to between 32 and 36 per session when they were hovering around 20 previously.

University policies are not directly under the direct purview of the MOE. Each school or department within the university decides on class sizes using the resources it has. I know of one group that has tutorial classes that average about 50 students while others run studios with students you can count on one hand.

But that is my point — the adaptive variability is not obvious in a spreadsheet. When you take averages of such variability, you get simplified ratios that remove all nuance.

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