Yesterday, the Daily Business Mirror, billed as the ”#1 daily business newspaper in the Philippines” published an article where I’m quoted as being in favor of classrooms containing 70 students. They had interviewed me in Manila in September during a national conference on children and learning. This is not my position at all. What I did say that it was possible (but not desirable) to teach this number of students by varying the teaching approach from lesson to lesson (e.g. using music, images, physical, logical, and social experiences, among others in different lessons). In part I was thinking of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, but I also think I had in the back of my mind the work of the 19th century British educator Joseph Lancaster, who was reputed to have taught 1000 students at one time using an elaborate system of peer-teaching (he was, in fact, one of the founders of peer teaching), where a student who had learned a topic in turn taught it to another student who taught it to another student and so on down the line.
In truth, I believe that the more students that are in a classroom, the more impersonal the relationship between student and teacher will be, and in that kind of environment students are apt to feel disconnected or alienated from the learning process. In the Philippines, class size averages around 45 students. This compares with an average class size in the United States of 25 students. My fear is that government officials, politicians, and administrators in the Philippines will see this distorted news story and use it as a justification for keeping the class size at 45 (or even increasing it). In response to the news story, I wrote the editorial department the following letter. I hope that they publish it, but in any case, I go on record here as stating that class sizes should be ideally around 20 students. This will help ensure a better learning environment for all students.
Dear Business Mirror Editorial Staff,
I’m writing with regard to yesterday’s story about my appearance at the SuperKids Conference in September – the story was entitled: ‘Class size has little to do with children’s learning’, and implied that I agreed with this statement. I do not agree with this statement – and in fact, in the article itself you quote me as saying that the lower the ratio, the better the quality. That is what I believe. So there is a contradiction between what the headline says and what I said at the conference. What I meant is that it is theoretically possible, but not desirable, for a teacher to teach 70 kids in a classroom if they vary their teaching approach from lesson to lesson and teach in an engaging manner – but there is no opportunity to get to know the individual students in such a large classroom, and personal contact with a teacher is very important for students’ engagement and growth in learning. I believe that classrooms should contain no more than 20 students per teacher (and you can quote me on that!), and even less if possible. The seminar approach is best, where there is around an 8: 1 ratio, students to teacher, so that there can be real interaction with the teacher. I don’t want the article’s misrepresentation of my views to be used as a justification for the government and administration to keep class sizes in the Philippines so large – and I would endorse any effort in the Philippines to reduce class size from 45 students in a classroom to a classroom of 20 students. I hope that this clarifies my position, and would appreciate it if you could publish my real views on the subject. Thank you.
Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.