Grade school squeeze is on

JoongAng Daily - - Front Page -

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.

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