Parliament: NCMP Leon Perera calls for reduced class sizes

Northland Primary English teacher Tan Lee Joon teaching Primary 2 pupils.
Northland Primary English teacher Tan Lee Joon teaching Primary 2 pupils.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Smaller class sizes benefit disadvantaged students, and can help level the playing field for them, said Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, as he called on the Ministry of Education to consider reducing class sizes to about 20 to 25 students.

With fewer students per class, there would be more opportunities for teacher-student interaction in classs, allowing students to be more engaged in lessons. They may also feel less shy about answering questions in class.

This has been borne out by experience in other countries, said Mr Perera citing studies from the United States and Britain that have found benefits to small class sizes.

Speaking during an adjournment motion on the future of education, he asked the MOE to conduct a trial here to find out if reduced class sizes can help improve students' results.

Currently, there is an average of about 34 students per class in primary and secondary schools here, except for Primary 1 and 2 levels, whichhave an average class size of 29.

In response, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said research on the impact of class size on student achievement has not thrown up conclusive findings.

He added that there were many other factors that affect how well a student does in school, the most important of which is the quality of teachers.

"It is teachers and and how they teach that makes a critical difference, not just the class size...We should not fixate on a single dimension of success in education," said Mr Ng.

He added that MOE invests in teacher quality, which is the most decisive factor in educational outcomes and is backed by research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Over the last decade, Singapore's teaching force has grown by 20 per cent, bringing student-teacher ratios here to 1:12 for secondary schools and 1:16 for primary schools.

Mr Ng noted that this is comparable to OECD standards.

He said: "Instead of reducing class sizes across the board, schools deploy teachers flexibly into smaller sizes for students who need the extra support."

In his speech, Mr Perera pointed to how Mr Ng had said during a previous Parliamentary exchange that smaller class sizes can be found in situations like remedial classes, or subject-based banding - which allows students to take subjects at different levels according to their strengths.

However, said Mr Perera, attending remedial classes may stigmatise lower-performing students and affect their self-confidence, and also eats into students' free time.

He suggested that it would be more valuable to have regular classes that are smaller.

To this, Mr Ng said that his ministry had also started other initiatives to enhance students' learning.

This includes the applied learning programme, offered by all mainstream secondary schools here, which helps students see the relevance of what they learn through hands-on projects in areas like technology or business.

"Students can explore their interests and explore their passion for learning in and outside the classroom...Again, how do we measure these programmes through class sizes?" he said.