Box 4.3. The Multi-grade Education Programme -The Bureau of Elementary Education, Department of Education, Culture and Sports, the Philippines
In the remote rural communities of the Philippines, where significant numbers of children often work in agriculture, the challenge of building enough schools to provide basic education to children from highly dispersed families has been formidable. For decades, school administrators in rural provinces resorted to organizing multi-grade classes where children from three different grade levels were taught by one teacher. It was difficult for teachers to implement the national curriculum, designed for homogeneous groups in single-grade classes. In addition, as these schools were located in remote areas, more experienced teachers who could choose their assignments seldom opted to teach in them. There was also a perception among parents and educators in these communities that multi-grade schools were poor alternatives or substitutes for the single-grade classes.
However, given the demographic conditions in these rural communities, it was unlikely that the population of children for each age level would increase to a size that would merit the opening of six-classroom schools with one teacher for every grade level. Therefore, in the process of exploring all available options to achieve the goals of education for all, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) decided to develop more fully and upgrade the multi-grade education programme as a viable strategy to address the educational needs of children in these communities.
The programme had a dual focus: expanding access to education and improving the quality of education for children in the poorest and most remote rural communities. There were different stages in the process of improving the multi-grade schools.
Activities included: teacher training; training of trainers and supervisors; development of a reorganized curriculum for multi-grade classes based on the minimum learning competencies used in all public schools; and preparation of sample lesson plans, a teacher's handbook on multi-grade teaching, and multi-level student materials.
One component of the Multi-grade Education Programme by the DECS, initiated in 1995 in cooperation with an NGO, the Community of Learners Foundation, focused on the setting-up of demonstration schools in six of the poorest provinces of the country. The central features of this component were: (i) an innovative multi-stage training programme for teachers and supervisors in the provinces that emphasized active, experiential approaches to teaching and learning; (ii) a focus on parent and community participation so that multi-grade schools became an integral part of the life of the community, with parents more fully involved as partners in their children's education; (iii) the setting-up of demonstration schools as micro-resource centres for collaborative learning among teachers from the clusters of multi-grade schools; and (iv) the organization of monthly workshops for teachers to sustain their continuing professional development and to alleviate the problem of isolation while working in single-teacher schools.
At the end of the first year of the project there was a dramatic increase in the enrolment of children in the primary grades, indicating a change in children's and parents' attitudes towards the multi-grade schools in their community. The working relationship between teachers and their supervisors, and between the teachers and the community members, improved. In most provinces, cooperation was evidenced in improved physical conditions of the school, changes in teaching methods and the atmosphere in the classrooms. While the project is still at an early stage of implementation, it has successfully demonstrated that it is possible to involve teachers, parents and community members in improving the quality of education for their children.