Multigrade Teaching: Research Background and Parameters

Before I begin a series of long-overdue school visits to some remote areas of West Papua, Indonesia (in which I will be looking specifically at low-class and school population density-led multigrade instruction), it's time to touch on some of the existing research and background writing on this specific (and gravely underserved) area of pedagogy. "Multigrade Teaching: Towards an International Research and Policy Agenda" (Angela Little, 2001) provides a strong conceptual overview of the challenges and existing policies in this arena.

First, to frame a bit more my personal interest area....I have encountered multi-level and multigrade instruction deficiencies in both LARGE CLASS instruction, where many levels of children with extremely heterogenious learning needs are put into one homogonized class structure with one teacher (specific to many Education in Emergencies situations); and SMALL CLASS instruction, in which the lack of a critical mass of children-low population density- has forced schools in remote/rural communities to consolidate classes under a multigrade structure. Hence, the challenge is parallel and the practical solutions for improving pedagogy should mirror eachother along these dual challenge pathways.

Little notes, "...learning, teaching and curricula in all systems of formal education are based on age-specific groups of learners following curriculum grades sequentially." I would add many non-formal education systems (designed around reintegration of students into formal) also follow this same basic structure of age (and in better circumstances, ability-level) cohorts of learners. While I am not interested in further delving into age/cohort classifications and approaches, the basic and guiding principle remains: MOST formal and non-formal classes are multi-level, and MANY classes are multigrade in the most difficult contexts, and almost NONE of the teachers working in these situations have been trained or effectively prepared to effectively deliver classroom instruction tailored to these circumstances. Most of these situations are born out of necessity but many are also born out of choice , important variables to keep in mind. **Multigrade structures are NOT created due to the interests of learners and the desire to tailor instructions-they are born out of environmental necessity. Multi-level classes may be born out of the interests of learners (grouping at level as opposed to age, which is normally more appropriate, but often not allowed due to regulations on school ages). Hence, and again, I will be focusing MOST on multigrade classes born out of necessity, vis-a-vis environmental factors outside the control of students and parents (low population densities, lack of critical human resources and financial support). And in taking the contextual factors into account, WHAT CAN BE DONE to address these challenges when we have extreme limitations on materials support, training support and parental support to improve processes (as is the case in MOST of these locations?)

Little highlights the following strategies from previous literature reviews, with the core basis being teacher training undertaken at the local level (more on that later): "...the design, reproduction and distribution of large quantities of self-study materials (what do we do when we cannot reproduce??)to support individual, peer and small group learning (what can be done on this without resources??); a system of evaluating learning progress and achievement (interesting, and can be done without resources...) and forms of internal school and class organization that establish routines for students independently of the teacher (VERY interesting, and NOT materials intensive).

As usual, I will continue to highlight, focus and drill down on methodology with suitability for low-resource environments (the common-sense place for practical implementation)......