Too long work hours of Japanese school teachers, along with an increasing number of teachers taking leave due to mental illness, are well known and recognized as a serious social problem. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the density in the classroom, the Japanese government has decided to reduce the upper-limit of class size in primary schools after 2021, which is expected to result in lowering the student-teacher ratio. The aim of this study was to examine the association between student-teacher ratio, teacher work hours and teacher stress.
Data on student-teacher ratio, teacher work hours, and teacher stress were obtained from a large-scale international survey conducted by OECD. The number of teachers participated in the survey was 3308 (primary school) and 3555 (lower-secondary school). After excluding teachers with missing observations, the analytic sample consisted of 2761 (primary school) and 3006 (lower-secondary school) teachers. Multivariate regression analysis was performed.
Regression results revealed that student-teacher ratio was positively correlated with total work hours and workload stress of teachers. In particular, teachers working in schools with high student-teacher ratio spent more time on time-consuming tasks such as marking/correcting student work and communication with parents or guardians. The coefficient estimates suggested that, on average, lowering the student-teacher ratio by five in lower-secondary school was associated with 2.8 hours shorter working hours per week (p<0.001).
Our empirical results suggested that the class-size reduction policy starting in 2021 could reduce teacher stress and long work hours through the consequent decrease in student-teacher ratios.