Student-teacher ratio in terms of numbers and quality: an opinion article of nowadays context worldwide

medical students

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Emanuele Rodrigues de Barros, a 20 year-old student of 6th semester of medicine at
the State University of Rio Grande do Norte, in Mossoró, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Student-teacher ratio (STR) expresses the relationship between the number of students enrolled in a school and the number of full-time equivalent teachers employed. Used as a tool to measure teacher workload as well as the allocation of resources, more importantly, this ratio can be an indicator of the amount of individual attention any single child is likely to receive.¹ Furthermore, nowadays, as online schools have drawn more students, it is of great importance that school district leaders who are weighing the possibility of closing campuses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus read up of online instruction in this context.²

Large class-size reductions, on the order of 10 fewer students per class, can have meaningful long-term effects on student achievement, especially when introduced in the earliest grades. It happens most for students from less advantaged family backgrounds or in classrooms of teachers who are less well prepared.³ For example, one-student increase in STR would save over $12 billion per year in salary costs alone, in the USA.4 Schools can also achieve the same goals, but through different means, as grouping students with similar academic skill levels into small learning communities. With this, support specialist can get to know each student’s individual needs more quickly than in a large classroom, being better able to provide individual needs of students.¹

On the other hand, for schools pursuing online instruction, it fills but one need: access to content. Beyond merely going online, thinking out of the box by providing some level of personal guidance to families, during this unique time, requires yield some innovative ideas.² Online teaching demands a minimum of 14% more time than traditional instruction, most of which spent presenting instructional content, and the ideal class size is about 12 students, comparing with 17 for traditional method. In the end, online teaching should not be expected to generate larger revenues by means of larger class sizes.5

The research behind policies to reduce the class size is plenty since studies started a couple of decades ago.6 Among them, the STAR project implemented by the Tennessee State Department and CSPAR project done in the UK are the significant studies that show the importance on academic achievement. Although, some researchers concluded that this cannot solely be given by class size, but is influenced as well by classroom process, course activities and students’ engagement.7

Finally, small class size gives teachers the opportunity to spend more time with each student, affecting their learning and academic success according to environment established by the teacher, empathic relationship with students and bridges between knowledges.8 In that context, state policymakers might consider targeting the reductions at students who have been shown to benefit the most: disadvantaged students in the early grades. As well, much smaller classes for inexperienced teachers who need support in developing skills or for teachers who are responsible for struggling students may make more sense than across the board reductions.


¹ Public School Review [Internet]. [place unknown]: Kate Barrington; 2019 Oct 10. How Important is the Student-Teacher Ratio for Students?; [cited 2020 May 24]; Available from:

² Journalist’s Resource [Internet]. [place unknown]: Denise-Marie Ordway; 2020 Mar 11. Online schools: Students’ performance often falls behind kids at other public schools; [cited 2020 May 24]; Available from:

³ Brookings [Internet]. [place unknown]: Matthew M. Chingos, Grover J. Whitehurst; 2011 May 11. Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy; [cited 2020 May 24]; Available from:

4 See, e.g., Donald J. Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James H. Wyckoff, “Teacher Layoffs: An Empirical Illustration of Seniority vs. Measures of Effectiveness,” CALDER Brief 12 (July 2010) and Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald, “Assessing the Determinants and Implications of Teacher Layoffs,” CALDER Working Paper 55 (December 2010).

5 Tomei Lawrence. The Impact of Online Teaching on Faculty Load: Computing the Ideal Class Size for Online Courses. Jl. of Technology and Teacher Education. 2006 Jan 01; 14: 531-541.

6 Elizabeth Graue, Erica Rauscher, and Melissa Sherfinski. The Synergy of Class Size Reduction and Classroom Quality. The University of Chicago Press Journals [Internet]. 2009 Dec 01 [cited 2020 May 24];110(2):178-201. DOI 10.1086/605772. Available from:

7 Koc, Nizam & Çelik, Bekir. (2015). The Impact of Number of Students per Teacher on Student Achievement. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 177. 65-70. DOI: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.02.335.

8 Rodrigues Brait LF, de Macedo KMF., da Silva FB, Silva MR, Rezende de Souza AL. A RELAÇÃO PROFESSOR/ALUNO NO PROCESSO DE ENSINO E APRENDIZAGEM. Rev. Itinerarius Reflectionis [Internet]. 2010 Sept. 2 [cited 2020 May 24];6(1). Available from:

About the author

Emanuele Rodrigues de Barros is a 20 year-old student of 6th semester of medicine at
the State University of Rio Grande do Norte, in Mossoró, Brazil. She has been director
of the Standing Committee On Medical Education of IFMSA BRAZIL UERN and helped
founding two extension programs: Elderly's Health Promoting Group and Ready Smile, the first incentivizing mental well being of elder, and the second bringing smiles and happiness in a Cancer's League hospital. Emanuele believes that maintaining close relationships with people is important by bringing a soft side of the human being, so essential in medicine.

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