LEGCO QUESTION NO.2(ORAL REPLY)
Date of sitting : 13 November 2002
Asked by : Hon. SZETO Wah
Replied by : SEM
It has been reported that the Secretary for Education and Manpower has publicly stated that the Government will conduct a pilot scheme on "teaching in small classes". In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of:
- the commencement and completion dates of the pilot scheme, the participating schools and the districts in which they are located, the class levels of target students, as well as the criteria for selecting the schools;
- the mode in conducting the pilot scheme, phases of implementation and the relevant details, the scope of the pilot scheme (including the subjects and interdisciplinary subjects to be taught), the training provided for the teachers involved, the support given by the Education Department, as well as the resources required for conducting the scheme; and
- the methods and criteria for evaluating the scheme, and whether it will, based on the evaluation results, formulate a long-term policy on "teaching in small classes" ?
- "Class Size" is a highly controversial issue because of the inherent complex nature of the classroom as a place to construct knowledge. A lot of overseas educational research and experiences, which attempted to establish a correlation between "Small Class Teaching" and enhancing the effectiveness of learning, have been inconclusive. Given the huge amount of resources involved, the cost-effectiveness of "Small Class Teaching" is also a point of contention.
Generally speaking, although there have been many studies overseas on "Small Class Teaching", the findings are inconclusive. Besides, there is a lack of in-depth studies and discussion on many related aspects, for example:
- Some studies showed that teachers generally did not adjust their instructional methods to take advantage of the reduced class size. Besides, the studies did not attempt to identify the changes in the process of teaching and learning brought about by the reduced class size.
- Many studies did not follow the students at grade four and above to study whether the benefits could be sustained after their return to regular classes.
- From the perspective of cost effectiveness, whether alternative measures (such as teachers' professional development, teaching assistants, etc.) could lead to similar benefits.
In Hong Kong, there have been few empirical studies of similar nature on "Small Class Teaching". Given the controversial nature of this topic, the complexity of the problems involved and the resource constraints, it is imperative for us to consider the issue thoroughly and rationally before making a decision on whether there is a need and, if so, how to implement "Small Class Teaching". Hence, we would take into account the local context and draw references from the findings and practical experiences of overseas studies, and draw up the details of our own study on "Small Class Teaching". As the study is still in its planning stage, I could only reply to the Hon Szeto Wah's question on the basis of some preliminary thinking as follows:
- The study will be conducted in 30 to 40 public sector primary schools, starting from the 2003/04 school year. The participating schools will try out the class size of about 20 students at the junior primary levels. Relevant professional training and support will be provided to the teachers as appropriate.
- For evaluation, apart from analyzing students' performance in the three basic subjects of Chinese, English and Mathematics, we would also observe the teaching activities (for example, teaching strategies adopted by teachers) to assess the impact of "Small Class Teaching" on the process of teaching and learning.
- Other details of the study, such as the completion date, the selection criteria for the participating schools and the districts in which they are located, the scope of the study, the training to be provided to teachers, the resources required, etc., are still under consideration. Professional views from experts in the field are being sought. Details of the study will be announced when ready.
- The objective of the study is to find out the relationship between "Small Class Teaching" and the "effectiveness of teaching and learning". The main areas of study will include:
- whether "Small Class Teaching" is able to bring about positive effects on teaching and learning, and if so, how and to what extent;
- how the expertise and teaching strategies of teachers affect the effectiveness of teaching and learning in "small" and "regular" classes; and
- whether "Small Class Teaching" is cost-effective.
- The Administration adopts a prudent yet open attitude as to whether "Small Class Teaching" should be adopted as a policy in the public sector primary schools in Hong Kong. The findings of the study mentioned above will provide important reference for relevant policy consideration.
Lastly, I would like to point out that the primary goal of "Small Class Teaching" is to enhance "diversified teaching and individualized learning". The existing teacher-to-pupil ratio in local public primary schools is 1:20.8, which is more or less the same as that in developed countries. Some local primary schools have indeed made use of existing resources and school facilities to implement various forms of small group learning for certain subjects. We expect that the proposed study will also identify other feasible and more cost-effective ways to enhance the quality of education.