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26 November, 2020 05:22:54 PM
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Meaningful reduction in class size to improve learning

Class size is calculated by dividing the number of students enrolled by the number of classes. The student-teacher ratio (STR) is obtained by dividing the number of full-time equivalent students at a given level of education by the number of full-time equivalent teachers at that level
M. M. Shahidul Hassan
Meaningful reduction in class size to improve learning

It is true that the university’s prime task is to create and disperse knowledge. On the other side, a debate over the contribution of university graduates to a country’s economic development is also now over. The widely accepted human capital view is that higher education increases skills, knowledge, critical thinking ability and innovative quality of graduates, which results not only in getting high paid jobs, but also in setting up entrepreneurial ventures.
The question now is about the type of higher education that universities will provide to students with individual prosperity and by which they can contribute more to the economic development of a country. Economists, business community, and educationists have reached a consensus that a country’s ability to thrive and prosper will depend critically on the efficiency of their universities and university systems to set their role to respond to the economic development strategies. Universities over the world are now focusing on the transformation of higher education systems and teaching methods, the integration of technology in education, and the development of high level-skills and lifelong learning. There have also been some changes in the field of university research.
University professors are now not only doing basic research, but they are also undertaking applied and entrepreneurial research.  In addition, student-teacher ratio (STR) and class size have become the subject for debate for universities in order to produce quality graduates. Student achievement and university expenses are related to class size and STR. It is, therefore, necessary to take a decision on class size as well as STR in higher education institutions (HEIs) in Bangladesh.
Considering the financial situation of the universities and the parents of the students and the requirement of maintaining the quality of education of international standard, the writer has discussed some basic issues in this article that will help us in obtaining meaningful class size and STR for the universities in Bangladesh.
Class size is calculated by dividing the number of students enrolled by the number of classes. The student-teacher ratio (STR) is obtained by dividing the number of full-time equivalent students at a given level of education by the number of full-time equivalent teachers at that level.  However, this ratio does not consider instruction time compared to the length of a teacher’s working day nor how much time teachers spend teaching, and therefore it cannot be interpreted in terms of class size.
The lower the STR, the smaller are the average number of students per teacher and the more is the time a teacher spends on an individual student, thus positively affecting the academic performance of students. STR is an indicator of how resources for education are allocated. A lower student-teacher ratio means universities will have to invest in more teachers. Smaller STR generally has to be weighed against measures such as higher salaries for teachers, investing in their professional development, greater investment in teaching technology.
It is recognized that the benefits of reduced class size are not uniform across all courses and populations. Although more research is needed to understand the full effect of class size, existing research shows that disadvantaged students, students with poor academic backgrounds, and special-needs students receive greater benefit from small classes than other populations. Reduction of class size needs more classrooms. Even with small STR, the class size can be large. STR at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA is 3:1. But MIT has 44% of classes with 2-9 students and 4% of classes exceed 100 students.
There is no reason to believe that higher education institutions (HEIs) like MIT compromise on the quality of education with the cost. Large classes are mainly for general education courses where teachers are more likely to emphasize learning factual knowledge and less likely to stress developing communication skills (both oral and written) than are those in small. Graduate teaching assistants help professors in conducting large classes. Smaller class sizes mean more classrooms are required. If the university does not have space, they may have to invest in building more, thereby bringing added costs to the university. What class-size and ratio STR effects are needed to justify the cost of hiring additional teachers and building more classrooms?
The  national average student-teacher ratio for HEIs in the USA is 18:1. However, all universities have not the same STR. The University of Missouri has a student-teacher ratio of 20:1. But Lawrence University has a student-teacher ratio of 9:1. This ratio in Stanford University is 5:1 but 200th ranked Liberty university has 17:1. UGC, India has recommended STR of 15:1 for the media and mass communication departments, 1:30 for social sciences and 1:25 for the science stream.
If a university has a ratio of 35:1, that is an immediate red flag. This is obviously an unhealthy number that almost guarantees that teachers will not be overly invested in mentoring all their students closely. Researchers also recommend that the average class size should not exceed 40. There is one more thing to add here. There are many private universities that depend heavily on adjunct faculties to reduce expenditure on faculty members. Adjuncts are underpaid. To earn more money, an adjunct in addition to taking classes at their own universities often takes four or five classes per semester at other universities. When that overworked, adjuncts cannot devote the attention to individual students that ideally, they would like to.
UGC should have asked universities to reduce their too much dependency on adjuncts and prepare guidelines about teaching by adjuncts. Now universities over the world change traditional (deductive) teaching to inductive teaching. In the inductive teaching method, more interaction of a teacher with students in the class is required. Teachers are demanding for small Class size and STR. But the changes cannot be done overnight. UGC should give reasonable time to universities to reducing STR for their undergraduate programs from 35:1 to 30:1 (for social sciences) and 25:1 (for sciences and engineering) and average class size to 40.

The writer is Vice Chancellor, East West University. Email: [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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