Multigrade classrooms, for many of us, is like an exception to the standard monograde classes. My belief in this, however, was challenged when I started observing classrooms as a part of my work and realised that 8 out of 10 schools visited were all multigrade. This observation made me question the constructed reality in my head and challenge the kind of training given in all teacher training courses where multigrade isn’t given due importance.
It is crucial to understand the multigrade classroom setup in great depth because most of the classrooms in the country are multigrade. Unified District Information System for School Education (U-DISE) data from the year 2016-2017 shows that around 10.2% of primary schools in India are single teacher schools. Madhi Foundation’s extensive engagement with Chennai and Thiruvannamalai government schools indicates 80% of schools are multigrade. A mismanaged multigrade classroom could be one of the significant reasons behind reports suggesting that every year 40% of the children drop out of school (GOI, 2012). Around 70% of students of 8th Grade can only read a Standard 2 level book (ASER, 2018). It could also be one of the unaddressed reasons that prevents India from providing good quality education to all even ten years after the implementation of the Right to free and compulsory education, and from not being able to achieve the millennium development goals of universal primary education.
Multigrade teaching refers to a situation where typically a school has one or two teachers with classes that are heterogeneous in both age and ability. In multigrade education, teachers within a timetabled period are responsible for instruction across two or more curriculum grades, often seated in the same classroom. Multigrade teaching can operate in several conditions such as in schools serving in areas of low population density and are inaccessible (Benveniste & McEwan, 2000), when school enrollment percentage is very low, in schools where minimal number of teachers are employed, in schools where teacher absenteeism is prevalent and concept of supplementary teacher deployment is non-existent, or when many teachers go on leaves of different kinds and there is no mechanism to bridge the void (Little, 2001).
Multigrade classrooms play a vital role in helping developing nations achieve internationally mandated education for all and the Millennium Development Goals. Multigrade settings are the most cost-effective way of delivering educational access to children as resources are shared among more individuals and in areas that are geographically isolated. This model allows for a rational allocation of teachers per class when the schools do not have sufficient numbers of teachers.
The multigrade model encourages children to learn from their peers and breaks barriers of differences in the classroom. This kind of education promotes collaboration and a cooperative attitude among students, and develops healthy interpersonal behaviour. It also helps the teacher to plan their work with more efficiency and cater to children who need more time to grasp some concepts that are dealt with in lower classes (UNESCO, 2013). All these reasons make many countries like Europe, North America, and Australia consciously prefer to have multigrade classrooms as their first choice. Ireland and Peru have around 40% and 78% multigrade primary schools respectively, making it a successful reality for them. Multigrade classrooms help sustain a fluid environment, which aids in engaging the child as per their level. It gives immense scope to the child to learn at their own pace and rigour. The learning space becomes grade agnostic but learning level specific.
However, a program that caters to so many advantages and even economic benefits to the system can fail if the basic underlying needs are not catered to. Our ignorance of the majority of classrooms in India being multigrade and the systemic negligence of their specific needs are the core of the problems. No teacher education curriculum in our country focuses on multigrade teaching, and the in-service training hardly trains them to work well in this system.
Multigrade classroom needs strong administrative support to make planning and execution feasible for the teacher. A revised set of curricular expectations is necessary to lay a strong foundation for a multigrade system. Teacher handbooks to help teachers structure their teachings, workbooks to engage students in peer and individual activity, proper time management strategy to have equal engagement with all classes are all crucial aspects of the multigrade system. Moreover, acknowledging that multigrade classrooms are a reality is the need of the hour.
ASER (2018). ‘Enrollment and Learning Report Card’. Retrieved from h.pdf
Benveniste, L., & McEwan, P. (2000). Constraints to Implementing Educational Innovations: The Case of Multigrade Schools. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale De L’Education, 46(1/2), 31-48. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.tiss.edu:2067/stable/3445426
Government of India (2012). ‘Class-wise dropout rates from 2011-2012’. Retrieved from https://data.gov.in/catalog/dropoutrate?filters%5Bfield_catalog_reference%5D=104538&format=json offset=0&limit=6&sort%5Bcreated%5D=desc
Little, A. W. (2001). ‘Multigrade teaching: towards an international research and policy agenda’. International Journal of Educational Development, 21(6), 481–497.doi:10.1016/s0738- 0593(01)00011-6
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration. (2018). U-DISE flash statistics 2016-17, http://udise.in/Downloads/Publications/Documents/Flash_Statistics_on_School_Education-2016-17.pdf
UNESCO (2013). ‘Office Bangkok and Regional Bureau for education in Asia and the Pacific’. Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000220101