More Than Half of Classrooms Were Too Full Before Coronavirus: IEA Delivers Important Reminder to Policy Makers

New analysis of data from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has raised worrying questions about how effectively schools will be able to maintain a degree of social distancing when they reopen.  Figures from the last cycle of the study show teachers reporting that more than half of classrooms were too full before the crisis caused by COVID-19, something schools and policy makers will have to pay close attention to when drawing up plans for reopening schools.

Commenting on the new analysis, IEA Executive Director, Dr Dirk Hastedt said,

“As with all IEA studies, TIMSS collects rich contextual data about many of the factors which can have an impact on teaching and learning.  In the questionnaire for teachers we asked them “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: There are too many students in the classes”.  Across 47 countries and educations systems whose 4th grade students were assessed in the study, 30% of the students’ teachers “agreed a lot” and a further 32% also voiced their agreement. In 39 countries and education systems whose 8th grade students took part in TIMSS, 66% of the students’ science and maths teachers agreed with the statement. 

“Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of variation in responses between the countries taking part in the study, but well over half of teachers in most of the countries reported that they agreed to some extent that class sizes were too large. This is something schools, and just as crucially, policy makers, should not ignore as they draw up their plans to reopen schools. 

“Additionally, TIMSS 2015 asked students’ schools about the emphasis they placed on hygiene and disease prevention.  Encouragingly, across the 47 countries and education systems we have data for, 86% said that they placed a high or very high emphasis on handwashing, something that bodes well for hygiene levels in the re-opening schools.

“This data was collected in 2015, when the world looked very different to now.  Even the data for our TIMSS 2019 cycle, which will be released this coming December, was gathered in a time where schools and policy makers did not have a global pandemic on their minds.  Nevertheless, these data are always of vital importance when ensuring that education is not just maintained, but improved.