Smaller classes make sense, and not just be­cause of COVID-19

Stu­dents have a moral and le­gal demo­cratic right to re­ceive a good ed­u­ca­tion

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - OPINION - KEN­NETH AQUAN-ASSEE Ken­neth Aquan-assee is a re­tired ed­u­ca­tor liv­ing in Oakville.

School­ing is es­sen­tial for the con­tin­ued so­cioe­mo­tional and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment of ele­men­tary stu­dents.

But I shud­der at what they may ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence in some older schools with ag­ing class­rooms and bath­rooms, poor air ven­ti­la­tion, and un­sat­is­fac­tory fa­cil­i­ties. This is typ­i­cal in lower-in­come neigh­bour­hoods. Be­ing poor does not guar­an­tee equal rights and ser­vices. Lim­ited school fund­ing in­evitably places se­vere con­straints on what teach­ers try to achieve.

We must fo­cus our at­ten­tion on the needs of stu­dents, pri­mar­ily phys­i­cal, so­cial, emo­tional and cog­ni­tive. The ques­tion must al­ways be asked: does this or that con­trib­ute to meet­ing stu­dent needs for safety, aca­demic de­vel­op­ment, sense of in­clu­sion in the class­room com­mu­nity, sense of be­ing treated with re­spect and be­ing cared for, and help in the learn­ing process (be­ing aware of what is to be learnt and help how to do it).

There seems to be lit­tle gov­ern­ment un­der­stand­ing how class­room size is a ma­jor fac­tor, among others, in en­sur­ing ef­fec­tive teach­ing and stu­dent achieve­ment. The larger the class size the greater the dif­fi­culty of max­i­miz­ing the over­all or par­tic­u­lar learn­ing aimed at. This is mag­ni­fied where stu­dents do not speak English or come from dis­ad­van­taged and multi-eth­nic neigh­bour­hoods, and have had so­cial­iza­tion ex­pe­ri­ences from par­ents and peers in­con­sis­tent with the val­ues of the school.

Ex­am­ple: let the length of the pe­riod be 30 min­utes.

As­sume the num­ber of stu­dents is 25. Then, the amount of time for any stu­dent is math­e­mat­i­cally 30/25, or 1.2 min­utes.

Stu­dents also have in­di­vid­ual learn­ing styles and may have learn­ing deficits of one kind or an­other. This means more in-class teacher as­sis­tance for some or many stu­dents, typ­i­cally those from low-in­come fam­i­lies or who do not speak English well.

The re­sult is less time avail­able for other stu­dents who, in ef­fect, are be­ing short­changed, de­spite the teacher’s mul­ti­task­ing ef­forts to teach ef­fec­tively.

So­lu­tion: smaller class sizes in the prov­ince for our har­ried teach­ers and de­serv­ing stu­dents. Stu­dents have a moral and le­gal demo­cratic right to a good ed­u­ca­tion. Their par­ents pay taxes for this out­come.

Given the prob­lems COVID-19 will cause ele­men­tary stu­dents and their teach­ers, it would help if stu­dents brought their own wa­ter bot­tles and a bot­tle of hand san­i­tizer.

The prov­ince should pre­pare a page of sound med­i­cal ad­vice for par­ents on how to stay safe in this pan­demic as well as how to help their chil­dren with any emo­tional prob­lems. Em­pha­sis on vir­tual learn­ing as­sumes, of course, stu­dent own­er­ship of a com­puter. Where none ex­ists the prov­ince might con­sider pur­chas­ing an Ap­ple ipad for such stu­dents.

It would also help if class­rooms could have a qui­etly run­ning por­ta­ble fan to in­crease the cir­cu­la­tion of air for the stu­dents and teach­ers, and, of course, a bot­tle of hand san­i­tizer avail­able for use by any stu­dent. There are recipes on the in­ter­net by ma­jor hospi­tals on how to make san­i­tiz­ing liq­uid cheaply. The prov­ince could get in­volved in pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion.

Lim­ited school fund­ing in­evitably places se­vere con­straints on what teach­ers try to achieve

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