PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2005, 12:00am

Smaller class sizes bring benefits not measured by test results

I wish to express my dismay at the headlines used in Katherine Forestier's articles ('Small class sizes a 'criminal' waste of cash' and 'The billion dollar hoax', Education Post, May 21). These headlines only serve to further the Hong Kong government's agenda of viewing education solely in terms of cost effectiveness.

The government's case for maintaining large class sizes is flawed as it is solely based on quantitative studies measuring educational outcomes on the basis of scores attained in tests. Shouldn't the quality of the time spent in the classroom and the students' and teachers' attitudes towards the teaching and learning process also be considered?

Large class sizes are workable when students can remain passive recipients of information. However, this is in direct contrast to the aims of the present reforms, which seek to engage students in collaborative learning tasks and to develop their autonomy in the learning process.

Teachers need the support of the government if they are to successfully implement educational reforms. As noted by Professor Hattie, 'reducing class sizes alone could be an expensive policy failure, unless it was accompanied by changes in how teachers taught'. It could similarly be argued that it is very difficult for teachers to change how they teach while class sizes remain in the order of 42 or 43 students.

In my native country Australia, where secondary class sizes range from 25 to 32 students, it is much easier for teachers to get to know their students well, provide them with opportunities for interaction and give feedback. There is a world of difference in the quality of the experience of teaching and learning in a smaller class size environment.


Discovery Bay

ESF is on the right track

I read the two letters on the comparison of ESF and British schools with great interest. The author of the letter on May 14 rightly pointed out that many older teachers have not upgraded their skills in a long time. However, this deficiency has already been signalled for correction by Heather du Quesney, new head of the ESF. As to 70s-style management, I would heartily disagree. From long experience at two ESF schools, the ambience in secondary schools and the relationship between management, staff and students is democratic. Our students grow in confidence as they reach the upper years, and leave well prepared for the world.

Making a blanket comparison is extremely misleading, as so many independent British schools are selective, or manipulate their results to compete in the market place. ESF takes all students - the brilliant, the ordinary, the motivated and the lazy, those with special needs and those with second-language difficulties.

One ESF school sights these results from last year: 98 per cent of students received A*-C at GCSE, while 97 per cent passed at A-level, 64 per cent of those at grade A or B. Compare this with the Bishop Luffa Church of England School, Chichester, which had 'impressive results for a non-selective school: GCSE 78.5 per cent A*-C in 2004, A-level 98 per cent pass rate; 53 per cent at A or B grades' (from the Good Schools Guide of the UK).


Reason not key to moral dilemma

I am sorry that I missed Professor Stich's presentation at the University of Hong Kong. His theme that 'moral philosophers need lots of help from psychologists, anthropologists and other social scientists' is sound. Purely rational moral systems such as those proposed by Kant or Bentham have fared badly. Stich is right that our morals come from our social and, indeed, biological backgrounds.

The challenge to evaluate the incestuous siblings' behaviour is armoured against criticism in a very unrealistic way. In all known cultures incest is taboo. Not only does the horror of incest come from an 'innate norm acquisition mechanism', as Professor Stich suggests, but incest is largely avoided among the higher primates as well. This points to a biological mechanism. Avoiding incest not only promotes genetic diversity, it promotes harmony in the family too. Studies in Taiwan of cases in which very young girls are sent to be raised in the families of their prospective husbands found that the couples, who were raised in effect as brother and sister, had an aversion to sexual relations once they became husband and wife. This implies that the guilt-free incest of the hypothetical brother and sister is simply unrealistic.

The second question is 'can you think of any reason ... to condemn the couple's behaviour?' Yes, I can, because moral judgments are social norms held by society as a whole. If incest is taboo in a culture it does not become right by being done in secret and with pleasure. The dictum that 'if it feels good do it' is not only immoral but is anti-moral in that it denies that our broader community has an interest in how its members conduct themselves.


Tai Tam