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When we choose a school, does size matter?

When we choose a school, does size matter?

Well, anything that affects value added proposition of product and services matters? Would number of students in a school affects the value added proposition of the institution.

If all other variables being equal, would the quality of classroom engagement be affected in a school that takes in 15 students per class compare to a school that takes in 25 students per class or how about 35 students per class or 45 students per class or 55 students per class. (Remember all things being equal means the qualitIes of the teachers are not in question).

I would think that teachers should be able to offer a higher degree of personalize attention in a small classroom. From experience, small class size matters more in primary school level. Class size will affect the value added in teaching. Interesting it should not be too small either. Otherwise, the students are being condition to work with very limited peers. Peers is an important factor in learning.

A school that takes in less than 10 students per class at secondary school level and charges less than RM800 per student would not be ideal. The total revenue raised in a small classroom may limit the programmes offered. 10 x RM800 = RM8,000. Typically each classroom must have at least 1.5 teachers on average to offer a good variety of lessons. Good schools that offer high value added programmes would allocate nearly 1.8 to 2 teachers per class. Collecting a total revenue of less than RM10,000 per class would compromise on value of its programmes.

It will compromise on teachers’ pay scale. The revenue will limit the school ability to offer English at two different levels (First and Second language), the school would not be able to offer Chinese at two different levels, the school would not be able to offer a wider choices of elective subjects. It is likely that the school will experience a high turnover of teachers. Between big classroom and small classroom, there is an ideal number. Striking the right balance in classroom size is the key to being able add value to the choices of programmes being offered. One can trade off for smaller size of class by paying higher school fees.

Size of classroom is one thing, size of school is another. Would size of a school affect value of its programmes or offer more opportunity to learn. Obviously Yes.

Would the quality of the learning be affected in school that has less than 100 students compare to a school that has less than 200 students or a school that has less than 300 or a school that has less than 500 or a school that has less than 1000 or a school that has less than 10,000.

Sometimes you see small school combine students from different year group together in the same classroom. It will compromise learning.

  1. It is not cheap to be an inclusive school. A school need to be well resourced to be able to provide differentiated learning for special needs kids. There many school who are under resource and they still take in special need kids. Yes all kids can learn. Special need kids need special attention and differentiated instruction. It is irresponsible take them but do not have allocated resources to help them.
  2. Teachers in a small school may have to wear many different hats.
    It is a general rule in Malaysia that teachers do not spend more than 4 hours teaching in class per day. Teachers’ engagement in a classroom will be affected if the teacher do not spend enough time preparing for lessons. Consequently, we need to make sure teachers spend enough time preparing for lessons. Hence, it is not wise for secondary school teachers to be teaching many different subjects. Imagine a teacher who need to teach four different subjects per day, need to prepare for Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths lessons everyday. A tired teacher would not be able to engage a class well.
  3. Would the quality of classroom engagement be affected in a school that only has one class for each cohort as compare to a school that has two classes per cohort or compare to a school that has three classes per cohort or four classroom per cohort? Does it matter? The answer is Yes. If you are using subject specific teacher, in a school that only has one class for every year level the maths teacher who need to teach four lessons per day will have to teach four different cohorts per day everyday. Whereas a school that has four classes for every year level (age group) , the subject teacher will teach four classes of the same level. Both teachers teach four classes per day, but one has a easier time because he is teaching more or less the same content. He will be happier and it will affect the quality of his classroom engagements.
  4. When a school has enough size, it usually means it has enough numbers to offer a greater varieties of programmes, including properly differentiated programmes for gifted students.
  5. Interestingly, a school that has over invested in capex using bank leverage, will limit its opex – operating expenditure. Limited operating expenditure means the school will not be able provide good professional development programmes which can be quite expensive.

Much of the variables that we need to tweak in order to affect educational improvement require resources. Without scale a school will not be able to raise the needed resources.

So what size is ideal for a school? Presently, based on my experience I think an ideal school should have between 800 – 1,000 students to be well resourced.

In summary, a decent school need to manage scale so that in aggregate it would be able to raise resources which are needed to effectively tweak variables that has a positive impact on educational improvement. Therefore scale affect value added proposition. Conversely, as parents, we should be worried if a school does not have scale, and consequently could not manage to raise enough funding. Disclaimer: Edu-Techies may not agree with me. It is ok. We can agree to disagree.

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of MalaysiaInternationalSchools.com and those affiliated to it.

Contributor Details

TSNg is a parent and educator who is passionate about educational improvement. Education history – Studied at Methodist Primary Boys School in Malaysia in the 70s and Secondary school in Singapore. Wrote GCE O level in 1984. Graduated with a Bachelor degree in Administrative Studies from York University of Canada. He has two children who attended international schools in Klang Valley.

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