Forget what you’ve heard – larger class sizes increase opportunities
It has long been argued that reducing the student-teacher ratio will improve students’ learning and subsequent levels of attainment. The basis of this perspective is that teachers are able to spend more time with each student, getting to really know their strengths and weaknesses, learning styles and catering for individual needs. This theory suggests that smaller classes allow for immediate feedback, on a one-to-one basis, enabling explanations of difficult concepts to be personalised to suit each child’s learning style.
That all said, it is worth highlighting that although teachers feel more able to do their jobs satisfactorily in smaller groups, we must consider the learners point of view; after all the learner should be at the heart of any education process, starting with the broader impact of learning in a class consisting of fewer than 10 learners. Students will miss out on clear social and collaborative benefits that arise from learning in an environment which offers access to tens, if not hundreds, of their peers, and not just within the confines of the school, but the global opportunities too.
“How can we expect our staff to support students if class sizes grow?” I hear you ask. Well, one solution is to support the teachers on the ground with experts in the cloud. Here we are essentially talking about co-teaching. Co-teaching is already happening in countries such as Denmark and Finland with much success; if the expression ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ comes into mind, perhaps we should be thinking ‘two heads are better than one’, instead. And let’s face it, staff promotions, maternity leave and retirements mean you could lose up to 40% of your teachers every academic year, but there are solutions out there to ensure that you’re fully staffed and it doesn’t necessarily involve new hires. What if schools allowed their existing teachers to deliver pre-structured, high quality content to more students, with support from experts – whether they be based in the same country or not – to effectively educate learners and monitor progress in more depth than ever before? Co-teaching with cloud-based, experienced teachers could not only be the answer to having over-worked staff on the ground, but it also means that schools can increase their student-teacher ratio without having to employ more staff…with benefits to all parties.
Peer learning partnerships are a fundamental part of education, providing students with the opportunity to learn from each other. Larger classes offer students a much less isolated learning experience; with a larger pool of peers to collaborate with, students can enrich their critical thinking skills, and develop their awareness, knowledge acquisition, and learning way beyond what is ‘the norm’ found within the walls of the classroom. For students to succeed in our increasingly interconnected global society it is important they have opportunities to learn from teachers and students from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds; smaller classes are severely restricted in this way, when compared to the opportunities created by much larger class groups.
This collaborative method of learning enables teachers to delegate some of their responsibilities to the expert in the cloud so that they are freer to invest their time on students that need additional support, for example, and whilst it can be difficult for a teacher to find a style of learning that suits everyone, a co-teaching environment can provide students with opportunities to collaborate with more peers, subject matter experts and other teachers, and at the same time encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning and acquisition of knowledge means each and every student will become self-directed.
Larger class sizes are beneficial to schools and teachers too, not only students. Self-directed students are able to consume learning that’s no longer just confined to the school timetable, ultimately empowering them to own their future and be ready for university, the work place and society. This enables teachers to delegate some of their responsibility to the students themselves acting more as facilitators, so that they are freer to invest their time on working with students on the higher order activities, where it is most needed and will make the biggest impact.
The focus of class sizes should be centred on the opportunities that are created for students to develop their skills through learning that will empower them to stand out, own their future, contribute and succeed in the world beyond school, because there is so much more to be gained from education than the arbitrary outcome of examination results.