Optimal class size for wholesome education
As a homeroom teacher of high-school freshmen, I complain about the lack of control my students display in their attitudes from the first day they enter my class.
First of all, they don't follow classroom rules well. However hard I try to persuade them or get angry, they continue to behave badly after just a brief moment of stillness. Even during teaching hours, they are usually unbridled.
Teachers and scholars say it is a sort of social phenomenon. In this era of hectic economic activity and computer games, parents have lost their authority because they cannot share enough time with their children. Instead they have left their kids to smart phones, the Internet, TV and other less than sound environments. This makes the attitudes and behavior of teenagers increasingly superficial and impetuous.
Moreover, as parents excessively emphasize their children's grades, they tend to neglect various etiquettes such as good behavior, sound value systems and desirable habits.
At end of the day, the higher scores that schools and parents try to get students to attain, the more often the attitudes of students become intractable, and almost anything unrelated to getting good grades is neglected.
This trend has even intensified under the Lee Myung-bak administration with the mantra ``grades-are-everything" becoming the barometer setting under which teachers and schools are evaluated. In this regard, it is natural that schools and teachers have gone all out to play their role faithfully in order to improve student scores.
One problem against this backdrop is the continuous increase in the number of students in my class, from 35 in 2008 to 38 this year. This makes it more difficult for me to control them. Every day, I must fulfill a triple task role: English teacher, counselor and disciplinarian. In addition, the government has reduced the number of teachers in each medium- and large-sized school by one or more. And smaller schools in farming and fishing villages face mergers or even closure.
Last month, my school conducted a survey of the emotional and behavioral development of 10th grade students. Sixty students, or 17 percent of the total 340 respondents, were classified as having emotional and behavioral developmental disorder symptoms (suicidal impulses, extreme-anxiety, learning difficulties, problems with friends etc).
Six students in my class exhibited such symptoms, most of whom were either hyperactive or depressed. So, they had trouble making social relationships, controlling their emotions, or concentrating on anything. They also had a negative influence on other students and in their everyday life.
Aggravating these problems were the desires of parents and the government policy of putting the achievement of good grades above all else, causing students to lose their sense of identity amid constant competition.
Thus, the reality that students face is hidden behind the ``grades-are-everything” policy making it hard for teachers and parents to seek diverse alternatives. Therefore, we grown-ups have a duty to make students healthier and happier before driving them into the hell of exams.
To help solve the personal problems of students, I think that schools should have a larger number of full-time counselors and disciplinarians so that they can take exclusive responsibility for managing student problems and other non-academic matters. It is unreasonable that we expect students to obtain higher scores without solving their behavior disabilities or the problem of overcrowded classes.
Second, there should not be more than 20 students in every classroom. This is because classrooms are not only a place for learning but also for living and communicating with people as a member of a small society. The average classes in other OECD countries have about 24 students.
Teaching students is a long-term project. As students' learning is affected by values, behavior, attitudes and the influence of families and societies, education should be conducted with lifelong perspective in mind. Teachers should be able to check the psychology of students and their lifestyles more closely and sincerely, and offer various alternatives other than academic pursuits. This is also a duty of the older generation.
The time has long past for education policy planners to evaluate the current teaching and learning environment with an eye on the longer-term horizon and offer more comprehensive criteria instead of focusing only on test results and economic efficiency.
The writer is an English teacher at Yeosu Girls’ High School in South Jeolla Province. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.