At a point, multigrade teaching is an important and appropriate means of helping nations in attaining their internationally-mandated Education for All targets and national millennium development goals by providing good quality education to children who are often neglected by their education system since they live in small, poor, and remote communities. More importantly, it is an approach that can help schools in these communities and teachers in these schools serve their students better by providing them an education that is both of good quality and relevant to the community in which they live. Many teachers in Asia and the Pacific need to teach students from more than one grade in one classroom. And many in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and elsewhere are already doing so. The approach being used is known as multigrade teaching-teaching classes of students not only of different ages and abilities but also at different grade levels (
Multigrade teaching refers to the teaching of students of different ages, grades and abilities in the same group. It is referred to variously as ‘multilevel’, ‘multiple class’, ‘composite class’, ‘vertical group’, ‘family classes’, and, in the case of one-teacher schools, ‘unitary schools’ in the literature. It is to be distinguished from mono-grade teaching in which students within the same grade are assumed to be more similar in terms of age and ability. However, substantial variation in ability within a grade often results in ‘mixed-ability’ teaching (
Multigrade schooling is a strategy which can be used to improve the educational prospects of children in conditions where a teacher for each grade of primary school is impractical as a result of the limited size of the student population. In a multigrade school, teachers manage two or more classes simultaneously and a single teacher may be responsible for all primary grades. Multigrade schooling is employed in isolated rural areas of both developed and developing countries (
There are three important rationales behind the likely occurrence of multigrade teaching in both developed and developing countries:
Firstly, multigrading is often associated with small schools in remote and sparsely populated areas. In such schools, there may be only one, two or three teachers, however they offer a complete cycle of primary education, as a result, each of these teachers must deal with multigrade classes. These ‘small’ schools are also sometimes referred to as multigrade schools. Multigrade schools have gained attention in the developing country context due to their ability of increasing primary school participation rates. More children, particularly females are being encouraged into school by bringing the school closer to the community.
Secondly, multigrade teaching is also common in larger urban and suburban schools. In some countries, it is a response to uneven student enrollment. For instance, a school with a two and a half grade entry may have to combine two grade levels to make up class sizes. Also, in countries where teachers absenteeism is high, and there is no cover, grades may be combined to avoid having a class with no teacher present in it. A single teacher then has to handle two grade level groups together.
Thirdly, multigrade teaching may be a deliberate response to educational problems. In developed countries, this is associated to the multiage perspective. Proponents of mixed age grouping claim that there are sound pedagogical reasons for placing students of different ages together in the same classroom. It is claimed that mixed age classes stimulate children’s social development and encourage greater classroom cooperation. These arguments are seldomly mentioned in the literature of developing country, although several commentators are of the view that multigrade organized classes are potentially a cost effective means of providing quality education which is difficult to get to these areas (
Several conditions which brought about multigrade teaching in schools: (i) Schools in areas of low population density where schools are widely scattered and inaccessible and enrolment is low; (ii) Schools that consist of a cluster of classrooms in different locations, in which some classes are multigrade for the same reasons as (i), and some are monograde; (iii) Schools in areas of population decline, where there was formerly monograde teaching, and now, only a small number of teachers are employed in the schools, necessitating multigrade teaching; (iv) Schools in areas of population growth and school expansion, where enrolments in the expanding upper grades continue to be small; (v) Schools in areas where parents send their children to more popular schools within reasonable travel distance, resulting in a decline in the number of students and teachers in the less popular school; (vi) Schools in which the official number of teachers deployed justifies monograde teaching but where the actual number deployed is less. The inadequate deployment arises for a number of reasons including low teacher supply, teachers who are posted to a school but do not report for duty, or teachers on medical or casual leave; (vii) Schools in which the number of students admitted to a class include more than one class group, necessitating a combination of some of the students with those in a class group of different grade; (viii) Schools in which teacher absenteeism is high and the organizations of supplementary teacher are ineffectual or non-existent; (ix) Schools in which teachers for pedagogic reasons have decided to organise students in multigrade rather than monograde groups, often as part of a more general reform of the education system (
The positive impact of multigrade teaching: Associated benefits of multigrade teaching are impact on orphans; reduced gender disparity; overall improvement in educational experience; and social gains (
6). Also, little positive impacts of multigrade teaching are listed below:
- Expansion of Access: For millions of children globally, the only type of school to which they will gain access, if at all they wil gain access will be multigraded. Economically and socially disadvantaged areas include disproportionate numbers of multigraded schools. In many disadvantaged and marginalised contexts the fundamental educational issue is not if a school is multigraded or monograded but if there is presence of a school. Cognitive achievement effects on learners: Veenman’s in 1995 review of studies mainly from OECD countries distinguished achievement results in different types of mono and multigrade class (i) multigrade, formed out of necessity, from imbalanced or inadequate enrolments; (ii) single-grade and (iii) multi-age, non graded, formed for pedagogical or philosophical reasons. He found no fact to suggest that learning in multigrade or multi-age classes was inferior to that in monograde classes.
- Social and personal learning effects on learners: Many studies that variously addressed children’s friendships, self concepts, altruism and attitude to school. Generally, the socio-emotional development of learners in multigrade groups is either accelerated or showed no difference, when compared with learners in monograde groups. And reports revealed positive and negative findings on the reduction of anxiety levels, the maturity of friendship patterns and personal and social adjustment and positive findings on self concept, self esteem, and attitudes to school (
International recognition of the benefits of multi-grade teaching: The centre for multigrade education (CMGE) was established in 2009 through a grant from the Dutch Government to improve the development of multi-grade education solutions. The CMGE was approved as a self-governing and funded entity of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). An international conference of 110 delegates from senior education and civic society organisations from Botswana, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa (seven of the nine provinces), Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Colombia, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Greece and Australia met in Paarl, South Africa, to analyze international best practice in multi-grade education as a viable alternative to address millennium development goal 2, in which by 2015, all children will have access to UPE. The delegates were addressed on the outcomes of successful multi-grade education interventions that have transformed the lives of millions of children in thousands of schools in Australia, Colombia, Greece, India, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom by world experts from these countries. The first world declaration to discourse on the subject of multi-grade education as a remedy to alleviating the marginalisation of rural communities through education was the Wellington declaration on multi-grade education. It was unanimously adopted by the delegates of the Southern African Multi-grade education conference on 24 March 2010. The world is finally becoming aware of the fact that multigrade teaching can make a significant difference in improving the chances of success for rural primary school children. It must be the way forward (
The present status of multigrade schools in the world: The invisibility of multigrade teaching in many countries is strengthened by the absence of educational statistics collected by national and international authorities. Neither UNESCO nor Commonwealth agencies and many Commonwealth countries, routinely collect information on the schools and classes in which multigraded teaching and learning is taking place (
9). The concept of a multigraded or nongraded school is not new. There is a long history of both developing and developed countries attempting to meet the educational requirement of sparsely populated rural areas by grouping students of various ages, grades, and experience in a single classroom. In Finland, for instance, 70 percent of all primary pupils are enrolled in schools with less than three teachers. Iceland has an average enrollment of 50 students for all rural primary schools and one-fourth of the schools in countries such as Spain and Scotland have less than 50 students. The ‘one-room-school house’ is still an important aspect of primary education in rural parts of the United States and Canada, and France has over 11,000 one-teacher schools. Multigrade and single teacher schools are even more common in many developing countries. China has approximately 420,000 multigrade schools, while Indonesia and Malaysia have 20,000 and 1,540 respectively. In Latin America, 22 percent of Mexican primary schools are ‘unitary’, and multigrade classrooms consist of 50% of the schools in Belize and 88 percent of the schools in Honduras. Five thousand of the 7,544 rural primary schools in Guatemala are classified as ‘unitary’ ( 3). In Peru there are approximately 21,500 primary multigrade schools, 95% of which are located in rural areas. Eighty nine percent (89%) of the rural schools are multigrade schools, and 41,000 are teachers, or 69% of the total rural teaching force teach in rural primary schools with multigrade classrooms. In Sri Lanka about 1250 schools out of the 10,120 schools in the country have less than three teachers. Vietnam has 2,162 multigrade schools that merge 2, 3, 4, or 5 different levels in a single classroom. The unfortunate reality is that these schools form the most neglected part of the education system. For most part, they are located in isolated, low-income rural areas, and generally have untrained teachers. The few trained teachers usually understand and use only ‘monograde’ pedagogy. National curriculum contents, teaching and learning materials and activities taught at schools are frequently designed for monograde classes. The result of untrained and inappropriately trained teachers, as well as lack of appropriate teaching learning materials, is that children in multigrade classrooms spend much of their time relearning material they already know or sit idle and boxed. While the world is becoming increasingly urbanized, multigrade schools will continue to be a reality for several years to come. Adequately meeting the requirements of children in multigrade classrooms will be essential for the achievement of quality education for all ( 10).
Multigrade teaching in Iran: Multigrade classrooms have been in Iranian education system since a long time ago. According to Iranian EFA national act, in 2004 - 2005 academic years, there are 47 thousand multigrade classrooms in which 1 million students are going for study (
Considering the climatic conditions and widespread economic situation in remote rural areas, we cannot neglect the establishment of multigrade classes in primary schools which do not benefit from the proper educational facilities. The population decline in rural areas due to migration of villagers to the cities, population growth decline and rising age of marriage reduced the students’ population in schools of rural areas and as a result increased the number of multigrade classes. And only the elementary schools in populated villages and towns have had single-level classes. Based on the statistics of 2007 - 2008 academic years, there were approximately 63 thousand elementary schools in Iran of which more than 28 thousand are multigrade. In some instances, it can be seen that a class of 5 student with 5 different grades are coeducational, while in some other schools this number increases to 30 with 2 or 3 different grades and one person performs the task of both managing the school and also teaching one or two levels (
The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the multigrade classes: ICT is the educational tool of the 21st century. Increasingly, it is embedded seamlessly in all social and technical development processes, e.g., e-commerce, e-agriculture, e-health and other e-based business transactions. Also, it is essential for e-education or ICT-enabled education systems in order to develop and prepare ICT-enabled workers to function professionally in ICT-enabled work places in our knowledge-driven society. Evidently, integrating ICT into the school systems is critical to prepare students for 21st century learning and working environments (
1). ICT can be a powerful tool for both students attending multi-grade schools and educators teaching in such schools. It can be used to provide training to teachers in multi-grade methodologies and allow students to engage in innovative, participatory multi-grade learning activities ( 13). ICT-based educational resources in multigrade schools should aid students to work with other students with different ability levels, and learn from older students. The development of resources and the organization of learning activities involving ICT, follow this general aim. In the learning processes, ICT resources are of key importance in the progression of pedagogic renewal attained by the school system and by the multigrade schools in current years. ICT resources permit the multigrade teacher to heighten respect for diversity, which is so important in the multigrade classroom. Furthermore, the ICT resources permit for breaking the barriers and the endemic isolation of the multigrade school while they contribute to strengthening local traditions and specificities; that is to say, ICTs enable rural students to access the globalized world without losing their roots ( 14).
The research literature and background: research studies focusing on multigrade instruction, particularly in rural setting, are quite rare. In Asia and the pacific programme of educational innovation for development, it is mentioned that teachers working in multigrade schools have to organize their work in a way that the learners of different grades are purposefully engaged in their studies and activities. Limitations such as inadequate seating space or even blackboards however compound their engagement in teaching pursuits. The curriculum load is so heavy that teachers continue to be indecisive about what to teach and how to teach it. Their training is often inadequate. Arranging teaching-practice in one teacher one class teaching conditions is difficult and so the problems linger. Teachers need to know how to make wise use of the curriculum in order to cope with their multiple roles. They require appropriate teaching methodologies and advice on using the available time, space, material resources, talent, and local community. An important pre-requisite is that the teacher should have a good working experience of the primary school curriculum and the methodologies required to implement it (
Miller has identified six instructional dimensions affecting successful multi-grade teaching. They are, classroom organization, classroom management and discipline, instructional organization and curriculum, instructional delivery and grouping, self-directed learning and peer tutoring. In the context of Nepal, the government has neither developed any basic requirements regarding the aforementioned dimensions, nor are they well addressed in multi-grade teacher training practices. In multi-grade or multi-class settings of instructional organization, teachers should spend more time on organizing and planning of instruction in order to maintain the continuity of students’ learning, utilization of available resources in the classroom and promoting interactive, participatory and child centered learning in the classroom (
In a study on multi-grade teaching in Research centre for educational innovation and development of Tribhuvan University in Nepal, instructional environment of the classroom was considered as cleanness, adequacy of light and ventilation, and furniture (adequacy and appropriate size of desks and benches) in the classroom (
17). Giannakos and Vlamos studied primary schools’ educational system in small and isolated islands of Greece. The research was conducted in six small and isolated schools in Greece. The study field compared mulitigrade traditional teaching to webcast enhanced multigrade teaching. The educational webcast was deployed to 22 primary school students. The results of the study revealed that educational webcasts can have a useful contribution to multigrade primary schools students ( 18).
Accordingly, that little research has been done focusing on managing multigrade classes with emphasis on the role of technology; it is evident that survey in this field is one of the research needs. So this research was organized to examine the classroom management strategies of multigrade schools in the east of Mazandaran province. In order to investigate the aim of research, the main question is:
What are the classroom management strategies of multigrade schools?