37 students in a classroom?!

“Five more students in each class,” a student scoffed. “Where would we put them?” “You know Sir, it isn’t really five more students,” another clever student informed us. “If you teach five classes, that will be 25 more compositions to correct!”

It had started as a polite conversation in a homeroom class about our government’s latest proposal to raise the number of students in each classroom. The discussion soon deteriorated into audio mayhem as each student felt obliged to voice his or her incredulity.

Speaking with fellow teachers our first reaction was, “We sure hope that that our education minister is merely floating a trial balloon.” However, being aware of the sorry state of our coffers and paying close attention to ardent fervor with which our government is implementing its austerity plan, it gives us great cause for concern. At issue is not so much the way it will affect teachers but rather the reckless sacrifice it is demanding from our students. This administration is proposing to mortgage the academic progress of our students and consequently the future wellbeing of our young people for perceived, short-term financial gains

Teachers have always suffered indignations. Adding three unpaid hours to the workweek is no big deal. Most teachers “volunteer” many extra hours already. The integration of special needs students into the classroom without special compensation has been a reality for years now. In fact many classrooms have more coded students than yet-to-be labeled ones! No, these are not deal breakers. Teachers have been undervalued and taken for granted for so long that it is not surprising that these changes are being proposed. However, when the powers that be in Quebec City suggest that any class size could go up to 37 students, it is here that teachers must take a stand. This is not an attack on the teacher, the class environment, or the curriculum. No this proposal is a grave threat to our students and their right to be taught with excellence.

It is clear that we cannot spend money we do not have but class size is not the place where the province should make their cuts. This proposal is myopic and will spawn major expenses immediately as our students will suddenly suffer from a lack of attention from their teachers. Teachers will burn out, taxing our healthcare budget, students will drop out taxing our welfare and justice budgets, and our economy will take a direct hit as companies will have to scrounge to find employable young people. Take our chalk from us, our paper supplies, even our smart boards, but please do not expand the number of students in our classrooms. Instead, let me offer four places where significant cuts could be made which will offer greater savings without any economic or social hangover:

School boards. By reducing the number of boards and commissioners the government is moving in the right direction. Keep this up until you have eliminated linguistic boards. We should have bi-lingual boards that represent all students in a geographical region regardless of the language they speak. These boards will spawn greater cooperation among all schools. It will bring to an end half-empty school buildings operating right next door to over-crowded schools.

Schools. Sell the ones that are old or empty. Let their moldy walls, leaky roofs, ancient furnaces and drafty rooms be a contractor’s problem not that of the maintenance department. The money that you will gain from the sale and the funds you will save from not having to maintain these old buildings should go into a savings fund for the building of new schools in areas where there is a growing student population.

Standardized exams. Give the Ministry of Education a three-year moratorium on the scheduling, creation, collection, and marking of standardized exams. This three-year break will indeed save money in the area of personnel, paper, and shipping. Ultimately I am sure that we all will find that these anxiety-inducing inquisitions are not indicative of a child’s progress but rather a total waste of time, energy and money.

Private schools. What if parents of school-aged children were given a bursary at the beginning of each school year and were offered the choice to use it to pay the full-tuition at a public school or to reduce the amount of their child’s tuition at a private school? This would pressure public schools to improve their programs and be innovative with the delivery of their services. It would also force private schools to sharpen their pencils and find ways to be competitive in this new market.

Undoubtedly these are tough times for everyone. However, financial cuts must be made prudently. Any number of studies can be undertaken to buttress a previously held position. The proof that over-crowded classrooms are detrimental to students’ success comes from individual teachers. Bureaucrats will be hard pressed to find even one teacher who thinks increasing class size is reasonable or realistic. Swinging the cost-cutting sword wildly will do more long-term damage than if we plan well and then surgically trim any truly extraneous fat from the system.

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