“Children, let’s sing our greeting song!”
“Teacherrrrrr, I want my water bottle!”
“I want to go to the toilet!”
“Ow! Sarah’s leg is touching me!”
Brian’s face scrunched up in annoyance. He was eager about the lesson today, after spying several new objects near Miss Chen’s feet. He was starting to grow impatient. When was class going to start? Everyone in class seemed to be calling out for Miss Chen’s attention. She had to tend to all their needs.
“But what about me?”, Brian thought to himself, “I want Miss Chen to start the lesson but everyone is calling for her and there is only one Miss Chen...”
Teacher-child ratios in Singapore
Parents and caregivers can attest to a wealth of challenges in caring for a single child. Caring for 20 five-year-old kids in an enclosed space is definitely a whole new level of challenge.
The scenario above is a reality that early childhood teachers face on a daily basis. Teachers struggle to give children the individual time and attention they need. With every child that comes into the classroom, they need to know what works for each child and their families. They have to keep track of their learning and development, and provide individualised teaching instruction to meet their needs.
Large teacher-child ratios in Singapore have resulted in teachers finding themselves swamped with work, in and out of the classroom. “It's a very physically and emotionally tiring job because you have to give your 100% everyday when working with children. You have to match their energy but also keep them in check if they are getting too excited, “ said Joyce, a 55-year-old early childhood teacher of 24 years, in an interview.
She further elaborated on how teachers need to bring work home daily. Lesson plans, evaluations, portfolios, learning corner labels and teaching resources are just some of the work that teachers bring home.
Having such a teacher-child ratio is due to the requirements implemented by the Early Childhood Development Agency of Singapore [ECDA]. In 2013, ECDA revised the requirements of the teacher-child ratio as part of efforts to enhance teacher and child interactions. The ratio was lowered from 25 children to 1 teacher, to 20 children to 1 teacher for Kindergarten 1 classes. The revised ratio, however, still makes it a daunting task to keep track of the children’s learning and development.
The case against large classroom size
The Starting Well Index report commissioned by the Lien Foundation in 2012 provided several strong arguments against large classroom size ratios in different countries. The report examined 45 countries and detailed findings on the key aspects that constitute a quality early childhood education system.
Despite international acknowledgement of Singapore's education system, it ranked only 29th out of 45 countries. It was mainly due to its high teacher-child ratio. Compare this to countries such as Sweden, which was ranked second for providing quality early childhood education. It has an average of six children to a teacher.
Upon interviewing in-service teachers and policy maker Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, a consensus was reached about lowering the teacher-child ratios. With smaller class sizes, teachers can focus more on meeting the individual needs of children. They can provide opportunities for increased quality interactions and optimise developmental outcomes.
In recent years, early childhood education has become a prominent and essential part of Singapore's public education. The government drives the initiatives to respond to public need.
It is crucial to improve the quality of education for children so that they can flourish and thrive in school. At the end of the day, if Singapore really wants to improve its quality of education, more has to be done in order to enhance the quality of education in our preschool sector. That being said, the lowering of teacher-child ratios would be a good place to start.
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