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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 1 - Multi-grade teaching: Concept and status
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View the documentThe persistence of the multi-grade reality towards the close of the twentieth century
View the documentThe gap between the multi-grade reality, teacher education and curriculum assumptions

The gap between the multi-grade reality, teacher education and curriculum assumptions

Multi-grade teaching is probably more common than we realise or care to admit. Table 1 and columns 3 and 4 in Table 2 on one and two-teacher schools present only the extremes of the multi-grade reality. Any school with more grades (eg six grades of primary) than teachers (eg four teachers) must organise learning for some of its teachers and students along multi-grade lines some of the time. And yet few Ministries of Education, few Curriculum Development Agencies and few Teacher Education Institutions recognise this reality. The knowledge required to work effectively within it appears not to be transmitted via textbooks on curriculum and teaching methods, via syllabi, via teacher's guides, nor via the content and pedagogy of teacher training colleges or Universities. The knowledge required for effective multi-grade teaching is rendered illegitimate by those with a responsibility for training and supporting teachers in their work.

A brief review of standard texts on curriculum development illustrates the point. The selection was made from the library of the Institute of Education at the University of London, which houses one of the largest English language collections of texts on education. The literature which addresses primary schools tends to assume that same-age class groups are the basic organisational units for which curricula are developed. There is no mention of multi-grade, multiclass or mixed-age teaching in a collection on Aims, Influence and Change in the Primary School Curriculum, edited by P.H. Taylor and published by the UK's National Foundation of Educational Research in 1975. More recently, Blenkin and Kelly (1987) write on The Primary Curriculum: a process approach to curriculum planning.

Again there is no mention of multi-grade. A mono-grade structure appears to be the taken-for-granted form of organisation An American textbook by Shepherd and Ragan (1982) refers to the "non-graded schools movement" in the US which had challenged nineteenth century American policy assumptions about the ideal organisation of learning and had encouraged de facto a multi-grade approach. However the impact of this movement in the US was short-lived and it is perhaps for this reason that Shepherd and Ragan make no reference to multi-grade teaching groups in their chapter on "curriculum delivery". In Understanding the Primary Curriculum, Boyd (1984), writing from an English perspective, makes no mention of multi-grade teaching but when discussing school-based curriculum development does mention the value of a flexible approach to the grouping of children. The problems of coping with special educational needs, ethnic differences, gender and new technology are addressed in the section on "curriculum issues" but the issues faced in multi-grade, multi-class and small schools do not warrant a mention. In view of the small proportion of schools in both the UK and the US in which multi-grade teaching occurs one can perhaps understand its exclusion from overviews of primary education organisation and curriculum, notwithstanding the fact that the issues are central to the needs of multi-grade teachers. However, it should be noted here that our review has barely scratched the surface of a Scandinavian literature on multi-grade teaching. Reports on the extent of multi-grade teaching in primary schools in Sweden by Malmros and Sahlin (1992) and in Finnish secondary schools by Laukkanen and Selventoinen (1978) suggest that multi-grade teaching enjoys a positive reception by many teachers, is adopted for pedagogical reasons, and is seen as a fertile ground for the development of new curriculum ideas for all types of school, not simply multi-grade.

The widespread exclusion of discussion of multi-grade teaching, and the implicit assumption that most teaching is mono-grade, is the more surprising in texts which purport to focus on the conditions of schooling in developing countries. In 1986 the National Institute of Educational Research in Tokyo undertook a study of the elementary and primary school curriculum in the countries of Asia and the Pacific (NIER 1986). Although the information presented on class size indicates that multi-grade teaching is rather widespread no country reports makes specific mention of it. The text on India, Australia and Nepal includes sections on school organisation methods of teaching and classroom management. None addresses the implications for these of the multi-grade reality. In other words it appears to be a "non-problem". Although the report on Pakistan mentions that one of the problems is a lack of trained teachers to handle multiple classes, this issue is not re-addressed in the account of teacher training. In his Curriculum and Reality in African Primary Schools, Hawes (1979) makes a passing reference to single teacher schools in discussion of official education statistics. Class sizes in "deep rural" areas are often low and uneven, and

it is common to find small classes sharing a classroom, sometimes with a single teacher, sometimes with more than one but nearly always seated as a separate group with their own 'territory' and blackboard, for their exists a strange orthodoxy that a teacher with modest education and training 'cannot be taught to handle more than one class at a time'.

(Hawes 1979:15)

Unfortunately Hawes neither explores the orthodoxy nor challenges it. Elsewhere he explores the problems of large class teaching, but not in relation to mixed-grade/age classes (Hawes 1978). The omission continues in Onwuka's (1981) edited collection on Curriculum Development in Africa and Grant's (1978) discussion of School Methods with Younger Children written for an African audience.

In general then it would appear that a mono-grade organisation of schools remains the taken-for-granted assumption of most of those who research and advise on curriculum development in both developed and developing countries. Multi-grade teaching is assumed either not to exist, or to exist but to be invisible, or to exist at the margins but to be non-problematic, or to be recognised as problematic but non-resolvable and therefore best not mentioned

There are a few exceptions to this dominant educational literature. Although UNESCO does not collect routine statistics on the extent of multi-grade teaching within school systems globally, it has, since 1961, recognised that it is an educational condition in need of constant support and attention. The one-teacher school conference sponsored by the International Bureau of Education in 1961 and the International conference of Ministries of Education led to the establishment of unitary schools in Latin America (UNESCO 1961). Throughout the 1980s the Asia and the Pacific Programme of Educational Innovation for Development discussed the continuing problems faced by multi-grade teachers especially in rural, isolated and sparsely populated areas (eg UNESCO/APEID 1981, 1982, 1988, 1989). The 1989 UNESCO/APEID report confirmed many of the curriculum points raised above about the marginal, peripheral and anomalous status of multi-grade teaching and schools. The summary of experiences from Australia, Bangladesh, People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand confirmed that:

primary curriculum documents and their associated lists of "minimum learning competencies" have not been specifically designed for use by teachers in multi-grade schools

school plans, instructional materials and methodological guidelines are often difficult to apply to multi-grade teaching situations

there is a shortage of support materials for teachers and individualised instructional materials for learners

there is a need for more work on the kinds of continuous evaluation, diagnostic testing, remediation and feedback which would best assist multi-grade teaching

and added that

although many teachers work in multi-grade teaching situations few countries have developed special teacher training curricula for pre- or in-service training. Teaching practice during preservice is invariably carried out in mono-grade schools

teachers posted to teach in multi-grade schools "develop a sort of psychological alienation from the school"

the educational system as a whole pays inadequate attention to the proper functioning of multi-grade schools through, for example, not filling vacant teaching positions in rural areas, the absence of systems of teacher accountability, a lack of basic physical facilities in these schools, lack of training for supervisors of multi-grade schools and a general "inattentiveness of education officers to the needs of these schools"

adapted from APEID (1989)

The purpose of this review is to draw together material from a range of multi-grade educational settings. The difficulties which we have faced in identifying and locating material and in having a modest amount of it translated reflects its status on the fringe of national systems of education, of national and international research and policy agenda and of information networks. It is an educational condition barely addressed in national policies of education, almost non-existent in the content of teacher education courses and mostly ignored by national curriculum developers. Where the issue has been a matter for research the findings are generally reported in journals which deal with matters rural or peripheral to the mainstream of educational debate. It is essentially a problem faced by teachers and students in peripheral rural areas unsupported and unrecognised by mainstream and centralised education systems. We are confident that our review has scratched only the surface of the total stock of written material and collective professional advice but recognise also that much of it has probably been written by teachers working in peripheral settings which increase the likelihood of its remaining at the periphery of information dissemination networks.