Double standards over school class-size policy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 November, 1997, 12:00am

I would like to highlight an apparent contradiction in the Government's policy on primary school class sizes.

In the 1996-97 school year, more than 390,000 of Hong Kong's 414,000 children in government and aided primary schools (representing 90 per cent of the primary school population) spent only a few hours a day in school.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced in his Policy Address the Government's decision to increase each primary school class by two students, in order to provide all-day schooling for a greater percentage of the population.

It seems that this difficult decision was made in a separate context from another government policy that encourages a reduction in class size. Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping, in a press conference after Mr Tung's Policy Address, explained that the average primary school class size was 32.5 - that figure represents the 50 per cent of students who are in 'ordinary' classes, which have 35 students, and the 50 per cent in 'more lively' classes, which have 30.

The Education Department clarified that schools which adopted the 'activity approach' agreed to emphasise 'learning through activities', and to encourage greater class participation and small group exercises.

The department explained that such an approach encouraged children to seek knowledge on their own, improved hand-eye-brain co-ordination, and allowed students to experience co-operation, mutual love and respect and the spirit of the group.

Schools which follow the department's advice and adopt the activity approach would then have an average class size of 30.

How can the Government reconcile its active encouragement of a scheme to improve education which is based on reduced class size with its policy that schools will have to accept an increase in class size for the greater good? And will the necessary increase in class size apply only to 'ordinary' classes? If so, a student in an 'ordinary' class will have 36 classmates, while his or her peer in a 'more lively' class will have 29.

And should more schools choose to adopt the 'activity approach', either on their own merits or as a means to enable smaller class sizes, students in 'ordinary' classes are likely to bear an even more disproportionate burden.

Particularly as the 'activity approach' appears to require little commitment to changing general good teaching practices, perhaps the Government should consider how to apply its policy on class size uniformly to all schools.

Having some classes 20 per cent larger than others seems hardly justified.

FREDERICK LEUNG Education Spokesman Citizens Party