Will Kevin Rudd’s ‘education revolution’ mean larger class sizes?

As an educator I thought I had seen it all but now I am wondering what the “education revolution” will really mean If Barry McGaw has his way.

A report out today quoted, Barry McGaw, charged with co-ordinating a new national curriculum, as saying that ” reducing class sizes was a waste of money and more specialist teachers should be hired to help struggling students instead.”

It is obvious that he has not spent time in a class with 35 children, 8 of which have severe learning difficulties and many with emotional and language problems. This, in an era of litigious parents, a crowded curriculum and general lowered respect for the profession of teaching. The fact is that a plethora of specialist teachers do not make up for consistent, inclusive teaching that allows all members of the class to have their needs met adequately by a well trained teacher who has a good overview of each student’s capacity and the time to work with each class member. Teachers with smaller classes are also more able to identify children experiencing problems early and so allow them to get the help they need sooner. With larger classes and specialist teachers we will have to deal with, not only a crowded curriculum, but also with class fracturing as students with various needs are ferried to and from classrooms. Is this pointing to whole change in the way teaching in primary school will be managed?

“Finland, with the highest literacy rate of 15-year-olds in the world, invested heavily in the early years of education, Mr McGaw said.” Well, we have not even begun to invest in the early years of education in Australia, because if we did then more effort would be made to have small classes for the crucial first three years of a student’s school life, along with more funding for teacher education in tertiary institutions. The NSW Department of Education has a goal of class sizes of 20 but there are many schools with far larger classes. In fact, class overcrowding has often been cited as a factor in child behaviour problems as well as impacting on student learning.

With parents working harder and longer unable to give more time to their children, teachers, often young and inexperienced, are dealing daily with challenging behaviour, an increasingly fractured curriculum demanding a growing emphasis on periodical mandatory testing, the need to take on more and more of the social, moral development of their students and somehow continue to make time for their own professional development. The idea of making classes larger and more complex seems ludicrous.

Specialist teaching is to be welcomed but in addition to, and not in place of lowered class sizes.

If Mr Rudd is going to seriously tackle educational equity, then he may need to increase funding to all areas of early education so that the divide that already exists between the well funded and resourced private schools and the under funded and generally poorly resources public system does not widen even further.

I am sure that the 40% of teachers projected to retire in the next 5 years will not be easily replaced if teachers face poor remuneration and now perhaps a lowering of working conditions. After all, a majority of teachers really do care about the educational achievement of their students.

As a society the money we spend on education has implications for us all. They will be the leaders of our future!

~ by abstraktbiblos on Sunday, 3 February, 2008.

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