Small class teaching (SCT) has been progressively implemented in public sector primary schools since the 2009/10 school year, with the objective of encouraging classroom interaction through the SCT strategies, thereby facilitating diversified teaching and enhancing students’ learning effectiveness. The Education Bureau (EDB) has always been pragmatic and flexible with the orderly implementation of SCT. So far, SCT has been implemented in about 80% of the public sector primary schools in Hong Kong.
Continued support and professional steer
To support schools that are implementing SCT, the EDB has been committed to providing various types of professional development activities, which include establishing learning communities, organising workshops and experience sharing sessions, in order to help teachers devise appropriate SCT strategies for enhancing the learning and teaching effectiveness. Besides, on-site teacher development workshops are arranged for teachers serving in schools that have recently implemented SCT to help them understand the principles of SCT and master the relevant teaching strategies.
Understanding objective and dispelling misconception
With the gradual decline in primary school-age population in recent years, there are views from the education sector that the EDB should fully implement SCT and further reduce the standard allocation class size in schools adopting SCT, in order to address the reduction in classes due to a declining population. Yet, we must emphasise that SCT is a teaching strategy for better learning and teaching, through a mix of teaching methods or grouping of students in class to enhance learning diversity and effectiveness. Should SCT implementation be taken the same as reduction in class size or perceived as a solution to declining student population, that would go against the purpose and original intention of SCT. Such thinking is also a deviation from professional consideration.
Orderly implementation with a pragmatic and flexible approach
A prime consideration for full implementation of SCT, being an established measure to enhance learning and teaching, is that there must be sufficient school places in the school nets concerned to meet the demand. Despite the projected drop in the school-age population in Hong Kong, the demand and supply of school places vary among school nets and there are fluctuations across school years. Since the implementation of SCT involves reducing the number of students allocated to each class, if SCT is implemented in individual school nets with a strong demand for school places, additional classes may have to be incurred. According to the latest projection of classroom availability, it is envisaged that in the next few years, requirements for implementation of SCT would not be met in some school nets because of insufficient vacant classrooms for operating the additional classes needed. Therefore, we should exercise prudence in making long-term planning for SCT and should not proceed with the full implementation rashly due to a decline in school-age population.
Proper use of limited resources
The current-term Government has so far allocated a total of $13.5 billion as commitment for recurrent expenditure on implementing a series of improvement measures, with a view to providing quality education. In deciding the pace of implementing SCT, the pressure on public finances should be taken into account. SCT implementation involves reducing the number of students allocated to each class from 30 to 25. There will be a substantial increase in annual expenditure if SCT is fully implemented in the territory, even though we assume that there are sufficient vacant classrooms for operating the additional classes needed. Given the limited resources available, we must carefully assess the additional recurrent expenditure involved in the implementation of SCT and strike a balance when prioritising various education measures, so as to ensure the proper use of public resources and continuously enhance the overall quality of education in Hong Kong.
In addition, the standard class size of 25 for SCT is still desirable when compared to the average class size in some other advanced places. The call for further reduction in standard class size is also unsubstantiated from the perspective of learning and teaching. Therefore, we have no plan to reduce the standard class size for SCT. It is worth noting that taking SCT as the strategy for avoiding reduction in classes of schools contradicts the basic principle of proper use of public resources. We should instead first focus on allocating resources to facilitate the progressive implementation of SCT in those public sector primary schools which have yet to implement SCT. In fact, we have arranged 11 schools to implement SCT in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 school years respectively as resources permit.
Steady implementation with professional planning
Enhancing learning and teaching is the objective of implementing SCT, and the direction of our future work. SCT is now implemented steadily in accordance with the established policies. We will continue to review the demand and supply of school places in individual school nets, whether there are sufficient vacant classrooms in the school nets to facilitate the operation of additional classes due to the full implementation of SCT within the nets, and the additional resources involved. We will also continue to maintain liaison with the public sector primary schools which have yet to implement SCT and their respective school sponsoring bodies, for the purpose of encouraging them to get prepared for early implementation of SCT where conditions permit, so as to bring more benefits to students’ learning.
12 October 2021