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Posts Tagged ‘ratio

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.

An issue that refuses to go away is that of class sizes in Singapore schools. It should not until our leaders relent.

Our current Education Minister provided at least three main objections to reducing class sizes (reducing student:teacher ratios):

  1. Studies elsewhere showed little or no benefit
  2. Teacher quality was more important than class sizes
  3. Local schools already have some autonomy to make small but strategic changes

No study on the effects of reducing class sizes is perfect or absolutely generalisable. Each study will have its own context, constraints, and focus areas. Each study will also suffer from inadequately answering these questions:

  • What are the measures of success and why were these selected? (Academic results are not the only and best measure.)
  • When are the measures taken? (The effect of class size reduction takes time and can be easily undone if not consistently applied over the entire student experience.)
  • What of the less measurable or even immeasurable benefits of small class sizes like teacher morale, social bonding, mentoring and apprenticeship, etc.? (These “intangibles” are just as important, if not more so, when trying to increase the contact time between a teacher and every learner.)

No one in their right mind or in the face of good data will argue that teacher quality is paramount. A great teacher might strategise how to allocate her time and energy in an unfairly large class. Now give that same teacher smaller classes and what might happen next?

That question needs to be answered even though most people have good guesses or be able to cite anecdotes. This is why other ministers in parliament have suggested that we have official trials of our own. Our schools, our teachers, our contexts, our findings.

As for giving schools the option to decide what to do with teacher deployment, the fact of the matter is that they have always had that option whether it was policy or not. After all, which school principal would not see that disadvantaged kids need more time and attention? Which teacher would not provide small group or one-on-one coaching?

The official answers to a concerted and official reduction of class sizes avoid the crux of the issue: Make it policy to reduce the student:teacher ratio not just administratively, but also realistically.

This means not just taking the total number of students and education officers in Singapore to get that ratio. It means providing a range of smaller numbers that each school can target given its context and constraints. It means focusing on better ways of teaching and learning, not on simply crunching numbers.

I was a graduate student when I first found out about the disproportionate amount of time it took to prepare e-learning resources.

The ratio of development time (input) to learning time (output) varies. A fairly recent and oft quoted study by Chapman cited 127 developmental hours for every hour of e-learning (127:1). This ratio was for Level 2 e-learning developed relatively quickly from templates.

According to Chapman, the research data originated from 3,947 instructional designers (or people with similar roles) representing 249 companies.

The ratio might sound impressive because the numbers are a result of the efforts of corporate teams responsible for organisational e-learning. Such ratios are also rules-of-thumb sought by freelancers to provide estimates for potential clients.

I do not recall the number being so high when I was graduate student. However, back then the technologies did not include the more social, augmented, and virtual ones we have now.

That said, I do not know of any responsive learning organisation that can afford to invest 127 preparatory hours for an hour of standards-based training or e-learning. A freelance instructional designer (ID) would have to work thinner, lighter, and faster to compete for and retain clients.

ID work is a small part of my consulting work as I have to factor in many other considerations, e.g., institutional policies, social contexts, group dynamics.

I have kept track of my preparatory time in my latest consulting effort. Without revealing details covered by a non-disclosure agreement, I can say that the effort focuses on a small group of educators who need guidance in a form of communication.

The situation is dynamic as I have to respond to volatile schedules. I often have little time for preparatory work. For example, I gave myself a week to prepare a just-in-time segment for participants. I took 30 hours over six days to prepare for a 3-hour blended session. This is a 10:1 ratio.

So is my effort (10:1) less than worthy of a corporate one (127:1)? Based only on numbers, it is. Based on quality — my knowledge of context; the blending of content, pedagogy, and media; the attention to detail — I would argue not.

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