[EDITORIALS]Go Slow on Plan to Cut Class Size

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[EDITORIALS]Go Slow on Plan to Cut Class Size

The government has clung to its objective of reducing the number of students per class to 35, touching off conflict and confusion in the education system.

The government cut the retirement age for teachers by three years to age 62 in 1999, predicting that about 21,000 teachers would leave elementary, middle and high schools by 2001. But some 42,000 have left so far, creating a shortage of teachers. But the government said it will advance its goal of reducing the number of students per class. Now, the demand for teachers has exploded, especially in elementary schools, which have seen 22,000 teachers resign or retire, four times higher than expected.

The government has hastily drawn up stopgap measures, like filling vacancies at state-run education colleges training elementary teachers with instructors who hold secondary teaching licenses, or rehiring retired teachers. The government should have approached the task step by step, but instead the Education Ministry pushed ahead to fulfill its promise to the president, adding to the confusion of the education system.

The Education Ministry said in July that it will advance by one year, to 2003, the plan to reduce the number of students per class from the current 35.9 to 35. The promise, if kept, would leave elementary schools 4,700 teachers short even if they hire all 10,779 graduates of education colleges. According to the original plan, about 3,200 new teachers per year would have been needed by 2004. The ministry also plans to employ retired teachers, which has prompted parents to worry about the quality of education.

Reducing classroom size should be considered the means through which the quality of public education is improved, not the goal itself. Nevertheless, schools are even turning science laboratories into classrooms to accommodate the increased number of classes due to the lower class complement. The Education Ministry should shelve the desire to leave a record of achievement before this administration's term ends. If a goal is unrealistic, it should be revised. The ministry should devise plans to employ the number of teachers necessary first, and then discuss reducing class size.
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