Grade school squeeze is on
The Finance Ministry has asked the Education Ministry to increase the number of students per class, reversing a decision from 2011 to lower class sizes. The Finance Ministry plans to make budget cuts for education that will mean up to 4,000 teachers are put out of work and an estimated 3,325 schools closed. The Education Ministry, as well as the public, should oppose such a cutback. Increasing the number of students in classrooms by nearly 15 percent is the wrong way to save money.
Putting class sizes back to the pre-2011 level of 40 students in first grade classes at elementary schools from the current 35 is an attempt to save 8.6 billion yen ($75 million) in personnel costs. In the proposal, the Finance Ministry argued that the 2011 reform, which was intended to make it easier for students to adjust to learning in a classroom and socializing with classmates during the first years, had failed to reduce incidents of bullying. Since 2011, reported incidents of bullying have increased.
But that’s because more incidents are being reported. Teachers, administrators and parents, as well as students, have increased their awareness of bullying. If anything, the increased number of reported incidents is evidence that the full extent of bullying is being uncovered.
The Finance Ministry seems stuck on numbers. They should be looking at cause and effect. In studies of class size in Canada, America and Europe, lower class sizes in early grades has been shown to have significant long-term effects on student achievement. Smaller classes increase the chance that teaching is effective, feedback is given and individual variability taken into consideration so that students get off to a good start with their early schoolroom learning.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan already has some of the most crowded classrooms, behind South Korea and Chile. The Finance Ministry’s recommendation will mean Japan likely will end up with the largest class sizes among the developed countries. The impact of this will be enormous.
It is reasonable for fiscal conservatives in the Finance Ministry to look for real outcomes for money expended. However, they need to first consider the impact on human beings, especially those in the most crucial phase of their education, and to understand that money spent on educating children is one of the best possible investments in the nation’s future.