Teaching in Hong Kong is often seen through idealised lenses as an occupation with a high salary and a low workload.
And yet, although many of us may have forgotten, dozens of teachers have committed suicide over the past few years owing to unbearable psychological stress. With the unprecedented pressure exerted on local teachers, it is imperative that the government implements small-class teaching as soon as possible.
Generally speaking, there are around 30 students in each class in a local primary or secondary school, and a professional teacher should find that easy to handle. Yet, the issues of students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and inclusive education have posed a tough challenge for many local educators.
First, there are a wide range of special needs, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, hearing and visual impairment, and so on. Second, some SEN students have to rely on medical treatment; otherwise they could become disruptive. Given the large number of SEN students, it is impossible for a teacher to have a clear understanding of each and every one of them.
It is a strenuous task for a teacher to pay extra attention in a large class to a SEN student who tends to disturb the lesson. In order to reduce the pressure on teachers’ classroom management and enable them to provide more extra help for SEN students, small-class teaching is necessary.
With the dropping birth rate in Hong Kong, it is expected that many schools will close due to failure to enroll sufficient students. This will lead to a decrease in the demand for teachers, many of whom will then become redundant.
These teachers will be laid off not because they are not professional enough, but because of the seemingly shrinking industry. While Hong Kong is often branded and praised as a world-class city, it is high time for the government to think about how to incorporate small-class teaching into the current education system, because education is one of the most important investments of a society.
In recent years, Hong Kong has jumped on the bandwagon and has included STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in the curriculum. Since many schools see it as a cross-subject element, almost all subject teachers have to fret about how STEM should be taught within their own subjects.
In fact, over the decade, we have seen a raft of educational reforms, which have added to teachers’ burdens. With a reduced class size, teachers will surely have less workload in terms of teaching and will be able to spend more time working on professional development, such as getting familiar with new education concepts like STEM.
Overall, small-class teaching is not only beneficial to local teachers, who have been afflicted by a huge amount of school administrative work, but also students. If the teacher is less stressed and teaches more comfortably, the students will learn more effectively.
Despite the fact that the issue of small-class teaching has been on many local teachers and political figures’ lips, the government has still made no progress in implementing it. In response to the changing environment, the government should urgently consider the practicality and implementation of small-class teaching.
Mark Tse is a local educator interested in Chinese and English language teaching