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close this bookMulti-Grade Teaching - A review of research and practice - Education research paper No. 12 (DFID, 1994, 63 p.)
close this folderChapter 2 - Lessons from developing countries
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentZambia: Teacher education and support for multi-grade schools
View the documentPeru: Indigenous schools
View the documentSri Lanka: Approaching multi-grade via multi-level teaching
View the documentThe impact system of mass primary education
View the documentConclusion

Zambia: Teacher education and support for multi-grade schools

The 1984 education census returns in Zambia indicated that 800 of the 3008 primary schools were "ungraded" (i.e. 26%), meaning that they offered only four grades of primary schools in a full cycle of seven grades. These ungraded schools had fewer teachers than grades, small enrolments in each grade and were located in remote and sparsely populated areas.

Much of rural Zambia is sparsely populated. In 1990 the population density was 11 persons sq. km. In 1980 this figure was even lower - 7.5 persons sq. km. Figures for India and China in 1990, by contrast, are 260 and 118 respectively. Although the population growth rate of 4% between 1980 and 1990 is among the highest in Africa, the rate in some areas is low and declining, with implications for the pattern of provision of education and other social services.

While a majority of children attending primary school in urban areas completes seven years of primary education, the percentages are smaller in rural areas where enrolment in an ungraded or incomplete school represents a terminal educational experience. A particular problem faced in many of these incomplete schools is the small enrolment of children in each grade. The problem is essentially one of resources - rural communities in sparsely populated areas too impoverished to contribute to the physical development of a school, and the high costs of providing teachers to teach each grade separately. Two solutions have been adopted (Lungwangwa 1989). The first, tried out in SO of the 800 schools, is a biennial intake in which students enrol in grade 1 only every second year. The second is the use of multi-grade teaching in which two or more grades are taught simultaneously.

Multi-grade teaching was introduced to a number of Zambian primary schools in rural areas in the mid 1980s as part of a consciously formulated "project" supported by the Ministry of General Education and Culture and the Swedish International Development Authority. It started from a very small base in four schools in Mkushi district and was extended to a further 40 schools in 1986 and 50 in 1987. It was argued that multi-grade teaching would enable small schools with low enrolments in each grade to upgrade themselves to complete grade 7 primary schools without requiring additional classrooms and teachers.

In-service training courses in multi-grade teaching were developed and mounted by the Malcolm Moffat Teachers' Training College (MMTTC). Others "inputs" to the project consisted of language and maths texts and exercise books, follow-up seminars, inspection, evaluation and the incorporation of multi-grade teaching as part of the regular preservice teacher training programme.

Approaches to curriculum organisation and teaching appear to have been promoted by the MMTTC included

the common timetable option: where all children learn the same subject in a given timetable period, but each grade group follows its own work, according to its own work programme and grade level

the subject stagger option: subjects are staggered on the timetable so that grade groups learn different subjects in the same period. Subjects which require high teacher-pupil contact are matched with those requiring little

the subject grouping option: subjects are presented to all grade groups together at the same time. Some subjects eg music, art, religious knowledge and social studies lend themselves well to this option.

An evaluation of the four pilot schools and the College's involvement in teacher's training was undertaken by Lungwangwa (1989). The evaluation addressed

the extent to which the multi-grade system had enabled all children in a school catchment area have access to the full primary level programme

the costs of this form of provision

the role of the teacher and the nature of his pedagogical activities in a multi-grade school

the impact of multi-grade teaching on the cognitive achievement of students

the impact of this form of teaching in promoting independent and self-directed habits of study

the internal efficiency of multi-grade schools

the impact of multi-grade teaching on the participation and performance of girls

the perceptions of multi-grade teaching held by participants, parents of students and the wider local community

the impact that the introduction of this system has had on the attitudes and mores of the local community

(Lungwangwa 1989: 13-14)

The College

The Malcolm Moffat Teacher Training College (MMTTC) is the Zambian-designated institution for the formal in- and pre-service training of multi-grade teachers. Keen support was lent to the idea of multi-grade teaching by the principal, the vice-principal and the multi-grade "coordinator", the first two persons having had some prior exposure to it in Australia in the 1970s. Despite the obvious enthusiasm of these key individuals a number of problems have been encountered in the implementation of the training programmes. Lungwangwa's (1989) review notes that

(i) By 1988 the multi-grade teacher education course had not been well integrated into the mainstream programme for teacher preparation.

Since most members of staff had themselves no experience of multi-grade there was anxiety and a general lack of enthusiasm for it

(ii) Multi-grade training has enjoyed the status only of an extra-curricula activity since its inception and has been time-tabled to occur during the "last few days before teaching practice commences"

(iii) Because of its lack of formal status students do not take it seriously (and)...see it as a filler not as an important component of their training... there are no examinations in multi-grade teaching... (and it)... is resented because it is considered to be a preparation to teach in the remotest parts of the country, a situation they would like to avoid at any cost

(iv) The four lecturers involved in the multi-grade programme feel "overstretched" because their teaching loads are already full. They feel that the absence of special remunerations and formal training in multi-grade affects their recognition and status

(v) A scarcity of resources in the schools restricts what the trainees can do during their multi-grade teaching practice. "Independent learning" is seen by staff to form the basis of multi-grade teaching and this, in turn, rests on the availability of learning resources.

Despite these perceived constraints, however, college staff believe that multi-grade teaching can have some positive outcomes. It can enhance independent learning, it encourages teachers to adopt pupil-centred approaches to teaching, it facilitates revision of materials covered in earlier grades, it increases pupil interaction and contributes to the country's objective of universalising basic education.

The Schools

The four pilot schools were visited and evaluated in line with the points noted above. We present here just two of the four cases, contrasting in several respects.

The Mwape primary school

Mwape Primary School was established by Jesuit missionaries in 1945. Between 1945 and 1963 children who completed the grade 4 and who wished to continue their primary education enrolled in grade 5 at the Chingombe mission boarding school, some 75 km away. Because of the distance and the annual boarding fees few students continued. In 1964 the Mbosha school was established at a closer location and it was estimated that about 5 children proceeded to grade 5 each year between 1964 and 1984. However few of these remained beyond the end of grade 5 because of the boarding costs, and between 1970 and 1984 only three students who began their education at Mwape succeeded in graduating from grade 12.

The introduction of multi-grade teaching has resulted in increased enrolments, although migration out of the area and the greater attractiveness of another primary school (where children receive free uniforms) has led to increases smaller than might have been expected. By 1988 45 boys and 43 girls were enrolled, compared with 17 boys and 16 girls in 1983. In 1988 the school served 10 villages.

There are two teachers. One teaches grades 1 and 2 in the morning and 3 and 4 in the afternoon. The other teaches grades 5, 6 and 7 as a combined class. The teachers expressed concern over lack of resources and workload. Requests from them for a third teacher had gone unheeded. Because formal lessons were taught during both the morning and afternoon, creative work, practical skills and production unit activity have been displaced. Despite these constraints the teachers were pleased to report that of eight students who sat the grade 7 examination in 1987 four had qualified for grade 8. The school-community relationship was not particularly strong and no contribution had been made by the parents towards the rehabilitation of school buildings

Kalombe Primary School

The Kalombe school experience has been a little different. The school, which currently serves four villages, was established later than Mwape, in 1965. Between then and 1984 those children who proceeded to grade 5 attended a school 19 km away. The weekly boarding fees prevented most children from proceeding and the Kalombe school was regarded as a "dead end" by most parents. After the introduction of multi-grade teaching, enrolment increased rapidly, from 123 in 1985 to 204 in 1988. However the numbers in each grade are now large enough to justify a mono-grade structure. One of the reasons for the increased enrolment has been in-migration, due mainly to a resettlement scheme. Parents expressed the view that the provision of upper primary grade schooling, made possible through the multi-grade teaching, had been one of the attractions of settling in the area.

There are three teachers in the school, two of whom were trained teachers and had specialised in multi-grade teaching. However they recalled that their multi-grade training consisted of two weeks practice in 1984 which, though valuable, was inadequate. They felt a need for more in-service training in multi-grade teaching and felt that the concept of multi-grade teaching should be introduced to all teachers as part of the normal pre-service training. The system of multi-grade teaching had been implemented "vigorously" and the recommended methods had been tried out. Teachers felt that the 'common timetable' and 'subject stagger' approaches had been the most useful, partly because of the large numbers of students involved. Unfortunately the volume of learning resources had not kept pace with increased enrolments, making the idea of "independent" learning difficult to implement. Increased enrolments were also creating pressure on desk and seat space. In general the teachers felt that the present enrolment justified their school being upgraded to a mono-grade 'complete' primary school. Its continued classification as a multi-grade institution, they felt, led to too great a workload for the teachers.

Teachers felt that with multi-grade teaching students were better prepared for self learning after they had left school. It was felt that multi-grade teaching contributed greatly to the mastery and enduring impact of basic skills, an interesting perception which could warrant further investigation. The progression rate from grade 7 to 8, of 12.5% in 1987 was of a level similar to the national average.

In contrast to Mwape the school-community relationship is very strong. A very strong parent-teacher's association has built a shelter for grades 1 and 2 and a brick house for the third teacher. The PTA maintains the classroom block to a very high standard and is raising money for another classroom. At the same time the community is aware of the pressures under which the three teachers work and cited instances of low proficiency of children in reading. They are aware that if more teachers were provided they would be expected to build more teachers' houses and raise money for additional classrooms. This prospect was viewed positively.

Mwape and Kalombe are just two of the schools studied and their experiences are rather different. The increases in enrolment in both schools have been impressive, though the average class size of each of the seven grades in Mwape remained too small to develop a mono-grade teaching structure. In Kalombe the increases in enrolment justified a switch to mono-grade teaching. Mwape is experiencing a degree of out-migration, with students attending another school where the incentives are higher and parents are shifting their homes in search of better farming lands. Kalombe, by contrast, has benefitted from the in-migration of children and families generated through a resettlement scheme. Perhaps it is this difference in orientation, the former "out" and the latter "in", which has contributed to the very different levels of support offered the respective schools by the community - rather low in Mwape and high in Kalombe. Teachers in both schools were enthusiastic about multi-grade teaching, perceived that it had learning benefits and were keen to receive further training. At the same time all teachers felt that multi-grade teaching created a heavy workload and was compromised by a failure of resources to keep pace with increases in enrolment. In Kalombe the numbers were now such that they could justify a changeover to a mono-grade system, the dominant system in Zambia.

Colombia: Escuela Nueva

In rural Colombia students receive, on average, 1.7 years of schooling, compared with 3.8 years in urban areas (Colbert, Chiappe and Arboleda 1993). In 1985 the transition rate of students from first to second grade was just 45 per cent in rural areas, with repetition rates in these two grades averaging 20%. Compared with schools in urban areas the quality of rural education has been characterised by a greater use of passive pedagogy, the use of inappropriate urban-biased curricula, lack of educational materials, rigidity of calendar, and a lack of community involvement. Underpinning all of these is a multi-grade reality of school organisation insufficiently supported by teacher training and materials. A number of efforts to address these problems have been made over the years, beginning in the 1960s with the implementation of the unitary school, an idea promoted by UNESCO in 1961. In 1967 the Colombian government decreed a unitary school system of one-teacher schools in sparsely populated rural areas. Between 1967 and 1974 a number of approaches were adopted, but the diversification of approach to the problems of the rural school, "each responding to different aspects of the problem", led to a lack of consensus on strategy and "universalisation fell short" (Colbert, Chiappe and Arboleda 1993).

In 1975 Escuela Nueva - the New School programme - was organised in an attempt to address the problems of rural education which persisted in spite of the unitary school approach. A number of accounts of the development of this programme are available (eg Colbert, Chiappe and Arboleda 1993, Colbert and Arboleda 1989, Colbert 1987 and Colbert and Mogollon 1977). This account is based on Colbert et al 1993.

By 1992 Escuela Nueva included 17,000 schools. It provides

active instruction, a stronger relationship between the school and the community, and a flexible promotion mechanism adapted to the lifestyle of the rural child. It comprises four main components - curriculum, training, administration and community relations.

The programme assumes that the rural schools involved in the programme are multi-grade and that innovations in the curriculum and teacher training need to be organised with this type of school in mind. Student self-instruction, flexible promotion, learning centres and teacher training are central to the multi-grade strategy.

Self Instruction Study Guides, Flexible Promotion and Learning Centres

The self instruction study guides are developed for children from grades 2 to 5 in four basic curriculum areas (natural science, mathematics, social studies and language). The guides adopt a method which promotes active learning, cognitive skills, discussion, group decision-making and the development of application skills within the local environment. The guides contain sequenced objectives and activities. Because the student follows the work at his/her own pace the schools operate a system of "flexible promotion". Hence students do not repeat grades. They are promoted to the next grade of work when they have mastered the present objectives and activities.

The study guides reflect both the national curriculum and regional and local adaptations. The national material are developed and printed centrally. The regional and local adaptations are developed by teachers during training courses and are produced using simple technology. The printing of the core study guides is done nationally. The study guides are used by groups of two to three children at a time and facilitate the work of the teachers required to work with several grades in the same classroom. Conventional textbooks tend not to facilitate self instruction.

Learning Activity Centres in each school complement the study guides. Materials to be used in the four basic curriculum areas are housed within the centre and students are guided to specific activities and observations based on these materials by the study guides. School libraries complement the study guides and the learning centres and contain reference material, dictionaries, textbooks and children's literature. The cost is low - a library of 100 volumes costs US$225.

In-service teacher training is an integral part of the New School strategy. Each teacher attends three in-service workshops over a period of one year, with a series of follow-up workshops thereafter.

The first workshop initiates the teacher in the basic concepts and methods of the programme, the purpose of involving students in the organisation of the school, the use of learning centres and group work in the organisation of learning, and the mobilisation of community resources for the development of the school. All these objectives are written up as self-study units in a teacher's training manual and the teachers follow these, engaging in active learning, in exactly the same manner as children will follow their guides in the classroom.

The second workshop is on the use and adaptation of children's study guides. This workshop takes place only after the school has been reorganised and the community mobilised. During the workshop teachers study the children's materials and learn how to use them for multi-grade teaching and "flexible promotion". Sets of materials for the children's use are delivered to the teachers during the workshop. The third workshop focuses on the role of the school library as a complement to the study guides and learning centre. The teachers receive the books for the library at the end of the workshop.

The follow-up workshops are organised monthly to "exchange ideas, analyse problems and discuss results". Over time these local non-formal workshops became formalised into "microcentres", described as

a participatory experience where teachers could evaluate, create, enrich their own experiences, innovate, criticize, analyse and carry out projects for the improvement of the school and the community

(Colbert et al 1993: 59)

Demonstration schools also play an important role in training. During the initiation workshops teachers visit a school which is implementing the curriculum approach effectively and which is operating as an effective community centre. Both the micro-centres and demonstration schools maintain a horizontal training network and are regarded as a "decentralised, in-service, low-cost mechanism to maintain quality in the process of going to scale" (p 59).

Stages in Going to Scale

Since 1975 three stages of development of the programme have been observed. These have been described as 'learning to be effective', 'learning to be efficient' and 'learning to expand'.

stage 1: learning to be effective: this stage occurred between 1975 and 1978 when the programme was implemented in 500 schools in three regions. During this stage materials for teachers and students were designed, administrative and financial arrangements put in place, administrators and teachers trained, delivery systems organised, materials reproduced and distributed, the programme implemented and initial evaluation conducted. The Agency for International Development (AID) provided financial support.

stage 2: learning to be efficient: this stage occurred between 1979 and 1986 when the programme was extended to 8000 schools. Training courses which had been developed during the first phase were replicated at the national level and the teacher's manual and children's study guides reproduced. Revised versions of the training courses and self study materials were developed and a core team established within the Ministry of Education. During this stage the Colombian government adopted the Escuela Nueva strategy to universalise rural primary schooling throughout the country. A variety of sources - government, the Interamerican Development Bank, the Coffee Grower's Federation, the Foundation for Higher Education and the World Bank - provided financial support.

stage 3: learning to expand: the third and current phase began in 1987 and was planned to include 27,000 schools by 1992. By this stage the Escuela Nueva movement was no longer a programme; it was now the declared official policy of government embodied in a national plan. New forms of organisational capacity were built at national, department and school cluster level.

Programme Evaluation

Colbert et al (1993) report the results of the evaluations which have been conducted on the programme to date. Rodriguez (1978) suggested during the first stage that there was no difference in the levels of creativity of children in multi-compared with mono-grade rural schools, but the self esteem of both boys and girls was higher. More recently Rojas and Castillo (1988) report that a majority of teachers believe that the New School is superior to other types of traditional rural school. Students in New Schools performed better on tests of socio-civic behaviour, self esteem and some subjects in some grades.

In short, it has been suggested that the New School system responds successfully to the needs of the rural child in Colombia because

it offers a multi-grade approach that permits provision of complete primary schooling where incomplete schooling exists

one or two teachers can handle five grades in the same school

it involves administrative agents and communities as well as children and teachers

the learning strategy adopted encourages active, creative, participatory and responsible learning

through their participation in the school government children learn civic and democratic behaviour

children learn at their own pace using self instructional materials

there is no grade repetition: promotion to the next objective or grade is progressive and flexible. Children can study at school and at home. They can continue to help their parents at home while studying

materials are affordable - one set is shared among three children and each set lasts several years. The content of the materials reflects a national curriculum and can also include regional and local adaptation

teachers are facilitators: they guide and orient learning. Teacher workshops employ a pedagogy similar to the one they will use in their classrooms

the inservice training of the teachers is local, replicable and permanent

(adapted from Colbert et al 1993)

We return to the results of the evaluation in Chapter 3.