Yesterday the LIA (Leraren in Actie) handed over a petition to the Dutch government with 45,000 signatures against the continued overcrowding in Dutch classrooms. It’s an issue that has been on the teachers’ agenda for a number of years, but there’s no money to implement policies that would make a difference. At least that is what the politicians say.
The petition was started on 21 January this year and has been signed by 49,102 people (at the time of writing). The crux of the petition is a demand for class sizes of between 30 and 36 to end. The LIA want a maximum number of 28 children per class to be introduced for the next school year, reducing to 24 within three years.
In November 2103 the LIA handed over a similar petition. Politicians saw no need to address the issue, not because the initiative was not a valid one, but because there simply was not enough money to make the proposal a reality.
The truth is that classes of 30 to 36 children are no longer exceptional cases.
I can talk from personal experience. My 10 year old is in a class of 30 and his class has fluctuated between 27 and 32 during the last four years. My six year old is in a class of 35, soon to be 36. In the past he was in a class of 40 infants.
I cannot tell you the amount of eye rolling and disbelief I have seen in the last year when the topic of my children’s class sizes comes up.
Large classes are not beneficial to anyone involved – not the children, not the teachers nor the parents, and not to society as a whole.
Children have difficulties concentrating in such a large group but two or three ‘study buddies‘ are available to share around the class. A number of children in each class wear noise reducing headphones. But at the end of the day there are 34 other children at any one time busy in my son’s classroom – a room that was not designed to house 35 children – and that is distracting for even the most conscientious of students. Would you like to work in an open office space (completely open) with 34 other people, all working on different things, at different levels and at different paces? Most of us wouldn’t even entertain the idea, yet our children do this daily.
Their teachers face giving lessons to classes full to the brim with children who learn at different paces and who have very different capabilities. Who would want to be a teacher in a class where they cannot give each pupil the attention they need? Marking the work of 25 children is considerably different than correcting the work of 35. Think about making reports, lesson planning, keeping order and the rest of the administration that has been heaped on teachers over the years. The fact is that bigger classes means more work for teachers and less individual attention.
In fact, in a recent poll 56% of teachers in primary schools say they find the work pressure unacceptable.
I’m surprised my sons’ teachers are sane, let alone standing at their classroom doors every morning with an enthusiastic smile on their faces.
A teacher can only spread themselves so thin before they break. Which many of them do. Burn out is common and there’s a general teacher shortage. Good teachers are leaving the primary school system. Which means classes are bigger. Kip en ei.
And then there are the classrooms themselves and the physical space a child has to work in. Again, you and I wouldn’t even consider sitting all day in such confined spaces. And then there’s air quality in packed classes. My six year old has caught every bug going since he started in his ‘plofklas‘ last August and he is constantly complaining about headaches.
Large classes certainly don’t provide our children with the quality of education we hope for, nor allow teachers to give our children the attention and learning experience they’d prefer to be able to give.
It is worth saying that there are regional differences in class sizes – in the east of the country schools are actually merging because of a shrinking population but it’s common to see more than 30 children in a school in Zoetermeer in the Randstad.
To make smaller class sizes in our schools country wide there needs to be an injection of money into the Dutch education system. I’m not convinced we’ll see that in time to benefit my children’s primary education.
So how small do classes need to be to see results? What needs to happen? Where my boys go to school it is not just a question of money – there are physical restrictions to space: no spare classrooms in the building. It makes me think of my own secondary school back in England where I took French and German lessons in a portakabin.
It’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon……
Over to you: How big are your children’s classes? Let us know in the comments what region and country you are in and whether it’s primary or secondary education your children are in. Curious to see what regional and country differences there are!