Combined classes group children from two or more consecutive grades in one classroom. Schools combine classes for a variety of reasons. This includes organizing classes to meet student learning needs and combining grades to balance class size. All classrooms include students with a range of skills and abilities (Ontario, 2007).
Conditions that give rise to multigraded class (combined class) may be one or more (Little, 2004):
(i) Schools in areas of low population density where schools are widely scattered and inaccessible and enrolments low. Schools may have only one or two teachers responsible for all grades.
(ii) Schools that comprise a cluster of classrooms spread across in different locations, in which some classes are multigrade for the same reasons as (i), and some are monograde. Some teachers within the same ‘school’ will spend most of their time with multigrade classes; some with monograde classes.
(iii) Schools in areas of where the student and teacher numbers are declining, and where previously there was monograded teaching
(iv) Schools in areas of population growth and school expansion, where enrolments in the expanding upper grades remain small and teacher numbers few.
(v) Schools in areas where parents send their children to more popular schools within reasonable travel distance, leading to a decline in the potential population of students and teachers in the less popular school.
(vi) Schools in which the number of learners admitted to a class exceed official norms on class size, necessitating the combination of some learners from one class grade with learners from another grade.
(vii) Mobile schools in which one or more teacher moves with nomadic and pastoralist learners spanning a wide range of ages and grades.
(viii) Schools in which teacher absenteeism is high and supplementary teacher arrangements are non-effectual or non-existent.
(ix) Schools in which the official number of teachers deployed is sufficient to support monograde teaching but where the actual number deployed is less (for a variety of reasons).
(x) Schools in which learners are organised in multigrade rather than monograde groups, for pedagogic reasons, often as part of a more general curriculum and pedagogic reform of the education system
Multiage – overview. (2012).
The following is the pilot project of multiage-classroom in Barberêche School in canton Fribour, Sweden:
SwissInfoVideo. (2012). Multiage learning in primary school.
Combined classes are neither better nor worse than single-grade classes. They are simply one of the many ways schools meet students’ academic and social development needs. UNESCO Bangkok (2013) had coined teaching combined classes as “multigrade teaching – teaching classes of students not only of different ages and abilities but also at different grade levels”.
Teachers use many different strategies to teach students in combined grades. They may (Ontario, 2007):
- Introduce a common topic then give each grade a different task or problem.
- Break students into groups to study different problems and report back to the class.
- These groups can be flexible, including students with varied interests and skills.
- Bring students together for activities like health, physical education, and the arts.
There are several challenges that a multigraded classroom teacher faces, if it is well managed, might serve as an opportunity (UNESCO, 2013):
- taking advantage of the diversity within and between groups to provide better quality to all students.
- balance time and multitasking to address the need of different groups.
- engaging the students and keep them focusing on meaningful learning activities which involves other groups collaboratively.
- break the isolation of as a multigrade teacher and establish networking of similar schools to share resources.