Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Holistic approach to education (Part 1)

Published:Thursday | January 22, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Wayne Campbell, Guest Columnist

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

- Aristotle

The debate over whether or not class size matters has been ongoing for decades in education circles. While the jury is still out regarding the reliability and authenticity of research on the importance of class size to students' outcome, we can all agree that there are many other factors of equal importance to students' achievement rather than class size.

Research done on the issue of class size by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanenbach and published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder makes it extremely clear that class size matters regarding students outcome. Professor Schanenbach's recommendations are most interesting and informative and states that increasing class size will harm not only children's test scores in the short term, but will harm their human capital formation.

Human Capital Formation

Human capital formation is the process of transforming the people in a country into workers who are capable of producing goods and services. During this process, relatively unskilled individuals are given the tools they need to contribute to the economy. It is critical to the long-term economic growth of a country, and provides the same benefits as new technologies or more efficient industrial equipment.

Jamaica is at a critical juncture in the nation's development and we must ensure that we do all within our power to equip all our students with the requisite skill set to become meaningful members of the productive sector. As a society, we must ensure that no student is left behind. The Ministry of Education 'Every Child Can Learn, Every Child Must Learn' is most apt in this regard.

However, should we fail as a society to make the necessary investment in our youth population then the future is indeed bleak. It is clear that the Government must do more for the youth population. Disturbingly, half of all Jamaicans between the ages of 14 and 25 see no future in Jamaica. This troubling statistics emerged recently from a study commissioned by the Centre for Leadership and Governance at the University of the West Indies. The study revealed that almost 50 per cent of Jamaica's youth population would be willing to renounce their citizenship. This is not very comforting and we must as society ensure that our best and brightest minds stay in Jamaica in order for us to have sustainable development. Jamaica's 20/30 Vision statement has not connected with the youth population and this speaks volumes regarding the despair and sense of hopelessness of the youth population.

The vision of making Jamaica the place to live, work, raise families and do business has no bearing on our youth population and this should be very troubling not only to the Government but also to the wider society because of the serious implications it has for the country. Notwithstanding that Professor Schanenbach is of the opinion that students learn much in small classes, which clearly work in the favour of those students who require individual attention or those who are probably a bit shy and will not participate in a larger class.

High-Quality Teachers

Professor Schanenbach argues that mechanisms at work linking small classes to higher achievement include a mixture of higher levels of student engagement, increased time on task and the opportunity small class provides for high-quality teachers to better tailor their instructions to students in the class.

Our students are learning at different levels and in many cases there are students who require individual attention in order to master the content being taught. However, with large class sizes this individual attention from the teacher is not possible. The teacher/pupil ratio at the secondary level of Jamaica's education system is 1:35. However, this ratio is still too high, especially in non-traditional high schools where the tendency is to have a wider pool of intelligence levels with various learning challenges in literacy and numeracy.

However, there are opponents of the smaller-class-size debate and, as such, they argue that class size is not the most important factor in determining student performance. Those who support larger class size also support having fewer teachers, which in turn will save money since less money will be used for education in general. They postulate that other factors which contribute immensely to students' performance include parental involvement of students, equity in resource allocation, curriculum being used, and the language of instruction, societal/cultural factors, and remuneration of teachers.

Part II next week.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. waykam@yahoo.com. http://wayaine.blogspot.com