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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 3 - Research evidence on the effects of multi-grade teaching
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View the documentCognitive outcomes
View the documentNon-cognitive outcomes
View the documentThe costs of multi-grade

The costs of multi-grade

The high costs of maintaining small multi-grade schools in North America and Europe has often been used as a rationale for closing down small schools. The costs of transporting, and sometimes boarding students at mono-grade schools are offset by substantial savings on teacher and ancillary staff costs and maintaining buildings and lands. The need to reduce costs often leads to the closure of the multi-grade school. In developing countries, on the other hand, the cost argument is presented rather differently. Multi-grade schools offer cost-savings, especially in situations where school-age populations are growing. As Thomas and Shaw (1992:8) point out

among the most obvious costs of setting up a multi-grade classroom are: furnishing and equipping the classroom, and providing self-learning materials and textbooks. Gains can be expected in terms of increased efficiency of the system resulting from lower repetition and dropout, and more efficient use of human and capital resources. It would not be unusual for expenditures in a multi-grade school to result in higher costs per student but lower costs per graduate, thus resulting a cost-efficient option. The approach becomes cost-effective when it results in increased achievement.

The few studies of the costs of multi-grade have almost always been conducted in the context of foreign-funded support for education and most appear to indicate that multi-grade is not a high-cost strategy for rural schools, especially when compared with mono-grade schools in similar settings (eg Cummings 1986:91-92 Psacharopoulos et al 1993:275, Colclough with Lewin 1993: 1302,138). Psacharopoulos et al (1993) point out that the quality benefits of the Escuela Nueva programme were achieved at a unit cost per student just 5-10% higher than those in traditional rural schools. They urge a degree of caution in interpreting this result, and point out that a full cost study has not yet been carried out. The cost of teacher training in the Escuela Nueva programme for example was three times higher than traditional teacher training.

However the nature of the comparison is important when evaluating results and comparing within and across countries. For example, should the cost and quality benefits of multi-grade in the Escuela Nueva programme be compared with traditional rural primary schools in Colombia, or with schools in urban centres? (Colclough with Lewin 1993:138). Or should the benefits of multi-grade be compared with the outcomes for children not attending school at all, a possibility which, in some countries, remains distinct.