'Teaching & Learning' is a weekly column on education and related subjects.

Apart from the infrastructure and the quality of teaching, the strength of the class is an important factor to be considered while evaluating a school. The attention that a student gets to a large extent depends on the student-teacher ratio, which in any ideal elementary class should be 25-30:1 — the formative years of learning.

The Right to Education (RTE) Act also stipulates a student-teacher ratio of 30:1. However, economics does not allow many schools to stick to a stipulated number or bring in any innovation due to the rigid classroom size.

The Chennai Corporation, for instance, has said that all zonal in-charges will review Chennai Schools in August where the Class I strength is less than 50. An official of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan said this was part of the Corporation's drive to see more students enrol in its schools. “The class strength in Class I is generally around 20, but when schools are asked to bring in more students teachers should be added,” he says.

School managements say the reputation of the institutions also plays a role. More parents want to admit their children in schools that are popular and have a track record of producing toppers. This results in a lot of migration happening at the primary and middle school level.

“If you want to keep up the quality of the school then you have to stick to the numbers, irrespective of the external factors,” says S.S. Nathan, CEO of Bala Vidya Mandir Group of Schools.

He also says that having one section per class is not economical. Moreover, it would also mean less competition. But in an ideal environment there should not be more than three sections. “The better solution is to start a branch of the school in a different locality,” he says.

According to experts, research has shown that a lesser class strength in the early years of school life would bring in greater bond between a student and teacher and enhance the joy of learning. Children need to feel they are part of a group, with the teacher giving them enough eye contact.

“At the elementary level 25 to 30 should be the ideal strength, whereas in the high school the size should not exceed 50,” says Aruna Rathnam, educationalist.

But along with the student teacher ratio, even the room size, the sizable number of hours a student spends in the school and portable furniture also play important role to meet the challenges as well as develop of sense of belonging, she adds.

Parents add that teachers provide a supportive environment when the size is small.