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Alberta teachers’ association calling for reduced class sizes

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WATCH ABOVE: How big is your kid's class? There are growing concerns about how many students teachers are required to oversee. As Julia Wong reports, a new campaign is underway to get the education minister's attention – Nov 19, 2017

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is urging the province to try and reduce class sizes.

ATA president Greg Jeffery said momentum behind the issue began in September, when district representatives from across Alberta reported concerns about class sizes from kindergarten to grade 12.

“In the metro centres, there was concern about kindergarten to grade 1… and also high school class sizes — many, many reports on high school classes in excess of 40 students,” he said.

In 2003, Alberta’s Commission on Learning released a report and recommendations for provincial guidelines on class sizes. It suggests junior kindergarten to grade 3 classes should ideally have 17 students, 23 students for grade 4 to 6 classes, 25 students in grade 7 to 9, while grade 10 to 12 classes should have 27 students.

A social media campaign using the hashtag #myclasssizeis also has teachers sharing how many students they have in their classrooms.

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Jeffery hopes the campaign draws public awareness to the issue and attracts the attention of those who have the power to enact change, adding he would like to see the province increase funding for more teachers.

“We’ve estimated it would take 2,000 to 3,000 teachers across the entire province to help us meet the… recommendations from kindergarten to grade 12,” he said.

“Getting those class sizes down to manageable levels is important for the future of Alberta.”

READ MORE: Alberta father hopes son’s story highlights the importance of inclusive education

Jennifer Chahal, a teacher with the Edmonton Catholic School Board, teaches a specialized program for children with difficulty reading or learning disabilities associated with reading.

While her class sizes range from six to eight students, she says she would be concerned if there were too many students in the classroom.

“It’s very hard to get any time one-on-one with students. There’s English-language learners, there’s kids with specialized needs, then there’s regular kids and gifted kids,” she said.

“It’s a challenge for the teachers to teach that many students with [all the] diverse needs in the classroom.”

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Chahal said this is particularly important when children are in the early years of their education.

“In kindergarten, if your child doesn’t have the pencil grip or if he doesn’t have some speech sounds or if he doesn’t know this letter, it’s much harder for the teacher to identify what students are missing certain pieces, and kids fall through the cracks,” she explained.

Parent Soledad Torres has a son in grade one, with 22 students in his class. She has no major concerns right now, but said she supports smaller class sizes.

“My son is struggling with reading. I know there’s often one mom that goes one-on-one [to help],” she said.

“He for sure needs more one-on-one time in that sense. The teacher does as much as she can, but she’s only one.”

The NDP have been making changes in education by lowering school fees, rewriting the curriculum and promising to build more schools.

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In a statement, Education Minister David Eggen said investigating further investment in education is a top priority.

“By reversing cuts planned by the previous government and fully funding enrolment for the last three years, we’ve put over 1000 new teachers into Alberta classrooms,” he said in the statement.

“Ultimately, school boards are in the best position to determine an appropriate balance between teacher staffing levels and other classroom support positions. That’s why we give them flexibility to determine class sizes and why there may be fluctuations from school to school.”

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