Teacher-student ratio

Published Date: 05 August 2019 12:00 AM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Christopher De Souza, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education a) what is the average teacher-student ratio for Primary, Secondary and Junior College levels respectively; (b) what efforts are being taken to reduce class sizes and increase the ratio of teachers to students; and (c) how will the Ministry further alleviate teachers of administrative duties to allow them to focus their day in school on teaching.

Response

1. To ask the Minister for Education a) what is the average teacher-student ratio for Primary, Secondary and Junior College levels respectively; (b) what efforts are being taken to reduce class sizes and increase the ratio of teachers to students; and (c) how will the Ministry further alleviate teachers of administrative duties to allow them to focus their day in school on teaching.

2. Over the last decade, our Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) has improved, and is currently 15:1 for Primary schools, 12:1 for Secondary schools, and 11:1 for Junior Colleges. This is comparable to many OECD countries, and better than countries such as the US, UK, Germany, Korea, and Japan.

3. However, PTR and class sizes are different concepts. PTR measures resourcing, that is the total number of teachers provided against the student enrolment numbers. On the other hand, the class size reflects how we deploy the teachers – how much teaching they conduct vis-à-vis out-of-classroom activities such as curriculum planning, conducting Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs), or attending professional development training. It also reflects whether teaching resources are deployed evenly for all students, or varied depending on the needs of students.

4. Once we differentiate the two concepts, we will realise that there are only two ways to reduce class sizes. One is to stick to existing resourcing levels, but give teachers more teaching load and reduce their out-of-classroom activities.

5. I visited a French Primary school recently that is run that way. It has a PTR of 19:1 – much less resources compared to Singapore, but it has a class size of 15-20 – smaller than Singapore’s. It is able to achieve this because it deploys its teachers fully for teaching. Given that resourcing is a zero sum game, it means the French school may not have a lot of resources for lesson preparation, CCAs, learning journeys, teachers’ training, as well as dedicated help for students with specific learning needs, etc. So something’s got to give.

6. A second way is to expand the teaching force so that we can have the best of both worlds – small class sizes, without undermining out-of-classroom activities. But that has significant budgetary implications, especially given that manpower is the largest cost component of our education budget. And remember, our resourcing level is already at OECD standards. Furthermore, a big increase in recruitment will also alter the quality of our teaching force, which is inevitable when you try to recruit in such big numbers. It is also difficult to sustain in our context, given increased manpower demands in other sectors such as healthcare, and the needs of the economy all competing for the smaller and smaller cohorts of adults entering the workforce.

7. Because of these reasons, we have decided not to implement any broad-based reduction in class sizes. But where we can, we deploy teaching resources to help students with a greater need for teachers' guidance. For example, MOE allocates additional teachers to our schools based on their student profiles, and to allow them the autonomy to organise class sizes appropriately.

8. In the secondary schools, for example, while Express classes are mostly taught in class sizes of close to 40, Normal (Technical) classes for some subjects are commonly sized at 20. In the primary schools, levelling-up programmes – such as the Learning Support Programme for Lower Primary students and the School-based Dyslexia Remediation programme for students with special education needs – are conducted in classes of 8 to 10, and 4 to 6 respectively. In Northlight School, Assumption Pathway School, Crest Secondary School, and Spectra Secondary School, students are taught in class sizes of 20.

9. Over the years, MOE has taken steps to also ease teachers’ administrative duties through the use of technology to streamline processes through e-platforms such as Parents Gateway and the use of apps for attendance-taking. In the 2018 OECD study on Secondary school teachers, we are happy to see some positive outcomes as our teachers have reported 3.8 hours a week spent on administrative duties – a drop of 1.5 hours compared to the 5.3 hours in the 2013 survey.

10. MOE will continue to introduce additional measures and better leverage technology to reduce the administrative workload and other demands on our teachers’ time, such as lesson preparation and marking, to allow them to focus their day in school on teaching.

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