Don't consider just grades in debate on class sizes

I am glad that National University of Singapore lecturer Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng brought up studies that show "smaller classes are effective in raising student achievement, and that the benefits of attending a smaller class are greater" in his article (Reducing class size is good, but mind the costs; Oct 24).

While the Education Ministry seeks to move us away from focusing too much on exam grades by reducing curriculum content and doing away with exams at lower levels, the irony is not lost on me that the debate on class size still hinges on academic achievements in studies conducted.

The truth is that there is simply no getting away from tangible indicators like grades.

However, as our education system and society evolve, we need to ask ourselves if we have neglected the intangible and the non-measurable, like the well-being of students and their emotional and psychological development.

For more than 10 years, I taught at two neighbourhood schools and can testify how having a smaller class size not only meant that I could give more individual attention to students but also that I was able to show greater care for them in non-academic areas.

I got to know my students much better through increased interaction, which bred deeper trust. I was not merely doing the job of imparting knowledge.

It was what I envisioned teaching to be.

It has been noted that more young people are struggling with mental and emotional wellness issues.

My personal experience has shown that teaching smaller classes will enable teachers to give more attention to students in such areas.

Most, if not all, teachers desire to shape lives but, given the workload from handling big classes, they have the energy to focus on only what is the most needful - helping students achieve their academic goals as their futures depend on it.

Will the economic costs of small classes prevent us from doing what is better in the long run?

We take pride in our education system although there are glaring gaps.

To address the shortcomings and provide quality education to develop our only resource to its maximum potential, we need the foresight and courage to look beyond the economic costs of having smaller classes and consider its long-term benefits.

Yeo Hem Joo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2018, with the headline 'Don't consider just grades in debate on class sizes'. Print Edition | Subscribe