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OPINION: Public schools need to reduce classroom sizes

The education system is crippled because it is still modelled after the ‘one-room schoolhouse’

I pick up a five-year-old after school a couple days a week.

When the students pile out of the classroom, I notice that there are those usual discussions that the teacher has with certain parents about their child’s disruptive classroom behaviour.

I shake my head when I think that this would never have to happen if school classrooms were not “oversized.”

When my son was starting public school 25 years ago, I knew his temperament predisposed him to potentially act out in class. He was very active, exuberant, needed constant stimulation and was always “go, go, go” from the moment he woke up to the moment he fell asleep.

He was not going to the be the type of kid who would sit still for long periods of time, listen attentively or patiently and wait his turn after 20 or so other kids.

To make his first few years of school positive and to prevent him from being typecast as a “troublemaker,” I decided I would make the size of his classroom more appropriate by offering my services as a volunteer classroom helper for his first three years of school.

My son’s K, grade 1 and 2 classes were a little over 20 students. With me in in the classroom, the adult/child ratio was what it should be, about 1/12, that is, if you compare it with after-school-care regulations.

After-school childcare centres in BC that have kindergarten and grade 1 children enrolled must have one staff member per 12 children. When there aren’t any kindergarten or grade one students in the group, the limit can be raised to one staff member per 15 children. Those first three years of my son’s schooling was smooth sailing all the way!

He never had an incident, or a discipline issue and his classroom was always calm and productive. There was one student in his class who was a compulsive class disruptor, but, with the extra adult in the room, the teacher was able to keep him close and under control.

In classes where there was less supervision, he could turn the room into a veritable madhouse (such as when I was his lunch supervisor)!

In fact, I suspect he was kept in my son’s class because of the presence of another adult body. Adult/child ratios make a big difference when it comes to behaviour!

It occurred to me that, if education ministries across the country refuse to reduce class sizes to save lives during the pandemic, they are going steadfastly resist reducing class sizes to improve the quality of children’s education.

Granted, if all school classrooms were suddenly cut in half, it would be a serious budgetary crisis for governments.

It occurred to me that one way to fix that problem is with “required” volunteer parent, grandparent or concerned citizen helpers in the classroom—especially for the early grades. Volunteering can be seen as a way for parents to “up” the quality of their children’s education and avoid those oh-so-uncomfortable after-school conversations with the teacher.

If you are concerned about your child potentially being disruptive in school and if you are able, why not do what I did?

The education system is crippled because it is still modelled after the “one-room schoolhouse.” Daycares, with their much more reasonable adult/child ratios, are a more recent development.

If governments won’t bring school classroom sizes in line with modernity, maybe citizens must. We adults need to take responsibility for a problem that the system has been trying to blame on innocent children.

Debra Lynn has a BFA in art and design from the University of Alberta and an MA in art education from Concordia University in Montreal. She lives in Port Alice and is the instructor and coordinator of the “Little Picassos,” “Paint Club” and “Adventures in Art” art programs for kids in Port McNeill.

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