May 8, 2002
Re-inventing the One-room Schoolhouse:
Merging Learner-Centered Pedagogy, Distance Education, and Technology
List of Acronyms
|AIDESEP||The Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest|
|APEID||Asia-Pacific Centre of Educational Innovation for Development|
|CIDA||Canadian International Development Agency|
|EFA||Education for All|
|GNP||Gross National Product|
|IMPACT||Instructional Management by Parents, Community and Teachers (Philippines)|
|ISPL||Instituto Superior Pedagógigo de Loreto|
|MMTTC||Malcolm Moffat Teachers' Training College (Zambia)|
|NOS||National Open School (India)|
|ODL||Open and Distance Learning|
|UNDP||United Nations Development Programme|
|UNESCO||United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization|
|UNICEF||United Nations Children Fund|
Re-inventing the One-room Schoolhouse:
Merging Learner-Centered Pedagogy, Distance Education, and Technology
Beginning with the Jomtien Declaration in 1990, the mantra of Education for
All (EFA) has been often repeated but progress to attain that
goal has been excruciatingly slow. The lack of progress was underscored at Dakar
in 2000 when the target date for achieving EFA was changed
to 2015. EFA will not be attained without concerted efforts
on the part of all governments and non-government organizations (NGO) to incorporate
realistic steps, sustainable initiatives, and global perspectives within a locally
relevant framework. Too many initiatives have been funded that overlook those
basic criteria. Too much emphasis has been placed on technology - whether radio,
television, or computers - as the panacea. And, limited resources have given
distance learning - the industrialized model of Peters (1998) - an appeal as
a cheap, quick fix solution, particularly for the marginalized members of any
The facts are that:
The goals of EFA are not going to be achieved to any significant degree in the next 13 years;
There is no low-cost solution;
A significant level of basic education and basic ability to use technology are pre-requisite to the use of distance education and technology; and
Electrical and communications infrastructure must be provided before technology can provide any significant benefit to education.
For students to succeed in basic education, however, requires that they have
regular interaction with other students and with a teacher.
Community involvement is important as well. Parents must see value in the education
students are receiving, not only for their children but also for their society.
Successful education involves everyone in the community, and all assume responsibility
for the students' participation. The use of technology-based distance education
as a stand-alone teaching method has not been successful for teaching basic
education (Perraton & Creed, 2000).
The one-room schoolhouse educational model of pre-industrial America, combined
with learner-centered pedagogy, distance education, and technology, is the best
plan to provide basic education in developing countries. Primary students will
be introduced to technology and to participation in distance education programs
to facilitate their developing as self-learners. Scare resources hinder a country's
ability to provide basic education for its students, particularly in areas of
low population density where building, staffing, and equipping schools with
mono-grade classes is not feasible. The one-room schoolhouse
makes efficient use of human resources because a few multi-grade teachers work
with all ages and levels of educational attainment from pre-school to adult.
But, for basic education to be successful, other resources are required, including
books and classroom supplies, in the correct quantity and available when needed.
Teachers must be highly trained, and those teaching in a one-room schoolhouse
need training appropriate to that model. Reliable electricity and telecommunications
provide links to the rest of the world and to its markets. Educational uses
of technology, incorporating pedagogically correct teaching methods, expand
the abilities and offerings of the teacher.
Secondary level students are able to learn independently, using technology-supported
resource-based learning. The models Perraton (2000) describes are in México,
India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. México and
South Korea use technology in their models. Computers are being added, although
cost, lack of infrastructure, and sustainability are considerable barriers yet
to be overcome. One more challenge exists: universal basic education - literacy,
numeracy, and basic computer skills and knowledge - must be achieved.
The one-room schoolhouse
The one-room schoolhouse is an important part of educating students in most,
if not all, countries of the world. The "basic" model has worked for
over two hundred years. Local adaptations meet cultural needs and match available
resources. The socialization aspect of a local school is important - students
remain a part of their home and family (Gregorio, 1996; Little, 1994). The courses
have relevance to the community, including courses about the local industry
and health matters. Age integration is another benefit - students interact with
others who are older and younger, and all learn from each other (Negroponte,
Regarded by many teaching professionals as a second-class means of providing
an education to the rural and peripheral students, the existence of one-room
schoolhouses too often is ignored. Yet, despite a troubling lack of resources,
there are successful models. Zambia, working with the Swedish International
Development Agency, developed a model in the mid 1980s (Little, 1994). Colombia's
Escuela Nueva has expanded within a strategically planned process of staged
growth (Little). Perú has active NGO
groups who are providing relevant teacher training to indigenous people to prepare
them to develop and expand educational opportunities in remote areas. Sri Lanka,
while not officially recognizing multi-grade classes, has integrated concepts
of work organization into their mono-grade schools (Little). The Philippines
incorporated multi-grade methods into their Instructional Management by Parents,
Community and Teachers (IMPACT) model (Little).
The re-invented one-room schoolhouse will have higher costs, reflective of
the higher standards and requirements. Technology integration will be phased
in as the local infrastructure is developed to support it, but the teacher will
always be central to the model. Universal basic education cannot be attained
if students are not provided the support and structure to be successful and
to complete their studies.
Pedagogy of the One-room Schoolhouse
By its very nature, the one-room schoolhouse should foster the development
of individual learners in an environment of support. Colombia's Escuela Nueva
combines the best of distance education - the ability to progress at one's own
pace - with the best of a conventional classroom - the interaction with a teacher
and with other students. Students progress at their own pace; but, equally important,
they are able to structure their attendance around the realities of their need
to help support their family. The research indicates that students are learning
more and completing more "grades" of school (CIDA,
n/d; Kline, 2000; Little, 1994). The stigmas of slow learning or failure are
The teacher must be able to present the same curriculum at different age levels.
Working with such a diverse group of students means the teacher must learn and
use diverse teaching strategies, such as cooperative learning, active learning,
problem-based learning, and service learning (Wolff & Garcia, 2000). The
use of peer tutors is a well-documented strategy. Group interaction is important
for all, students, teachers, and the community, involving participants from
Integration of subject matter is an important component of this pedagogy, as
is the use of classroom groups (Little, 1994) Yet, because many teachers have
learned under a fragmented curriculum, they need training and guidance before
they are able to teach in an interdisciplinary mode.
The Role of Teachers
Unlike the teacher of pre-industrial America, today's multi-grade teacher must
be highly qualified. They must know exactly what needs to be done, how and when
technology will be used, and how and when leading-edge technology will be fully
integrated. Little's (1994) review of the teacher education and curriculum literature
found scant resources to prepare teachers for multi-grade teaching with one
notable exception. Scandinavian literature "[suggests] that multi-grade
teaching enjoys a positive reception by many teachers, is adopted for pedagogical
reasons, and is seen as a fertile ground for the development of new curriculum
ideas for all types of school, not simply multi-grade" (Little). Little
further cites Hawes (1979) that "there exists a strange orthodoxy that
a teacher with modest education and training 'cannot be taught to handle more
than one class at a time.'" Hawes' statement is not quite correct. A teacher
with modest education and training may not be qualified. Training and mentoring
will provide the needed knowledge and skills.
UNESCO's research, beginning in
1961, recognizes the need for "constant support and attention" (Little,
1994) that would take the form of identified minimum competencies for teachers,
specifically designed curriculum and assessment, and educational materials for
teachers and students (Little). Often cited are the need for higher salaries,
more status, and incentives for multi-grade teachers (APEID,
Teacher training in developing countries does not prepare teachers for the
multi-grade classroom. These one-room schoolhouses are in remote areas, where
officials never visit, and the status of the schools and their teachers is minimal.
Zambia's Malcolm Moffat Teachers' Training College (MMTTC)
officially provides such training programs, although the reality is that the
training is poorly and quickly done, more as an afterthought than as a part
of the curriculum. In contrast, there exist in Perú NGO
teacher training programs specifically for indigenous teachers to prepare them
to teach in multi-grade classrooms (Little, 1994). Theory of multi-grade classes
is taught, and the students develop their own curricula and "student teach"
in a multi-grade environment.
Colombia's Escuela Nueva is different. That model recognizes the centrality
of teacher training and incorporates teacher training and monthly meetings in
But, for the re-invented one-room schoolhouse, much more is needed. Teachers
in this model must be the best there are, and their status and salary must be
reflective of their qualifications. They need to know the local language, culture,
and industry; how to teach in multi-grade classrooms; learner-centered pedagogy,
the theory and the application; how to mentor and to be mentored; and how to
develop community support for the program. Officials must visit regularly to
understand the importance of what the model is accomplishing and to ensure continued
funding at the needed level. The teachers must be "change agents"
for the communities they serve, and they must be admired and revered by their
communities and by government officials.
The Role of Technology
Each new technology has been viewed as the ultimate "fix" for the
educational system, as far back as the invention of moveable type. To date,
none have lived up to their promise. What is important with the use of any technology
is that the use be appropriate, be pedagogically sound, and be incorporated
into the learning environment by teachers trained in its use.
As technologies are evaluated for inclusion in the curriculum, the country's
infrastructure can be a limiting factor. The lack of reliable electricity
may preclude the use of televisions and computers (Wilkinson, n/d). Wireless
technologies may allow a country to "leapfrog" the need for land telephone
lines to access the Internet.
The lack of the most basic of technologies - textbooks - is a recurrent theme.
A sobering statistic from the 1996 APEID
/ Tokyo Gakugei University conference relates to the need for 13,300,000 sets
of Multi-Level Materials (MLM) in the Philippines. At the time of the conference,
UNICEF had printed 9,000 sets and
UNDP 7,800 sets (APEID,
1996). Textbooks and other learning materials must be provided, and the world
must come to grips with the cost. A question that cannot be ignored is how developing
countries will sustain the cost for information and communication technologies,
with the prices of a "world" technology
(Orivel, 2000), if they cannot provide sufficient textbooks.
Negroponte (2001) adds a twist: the culture of a country also will dictate
its acceptance of a particular technology. His example is that the Internet
is a de-centralist medium; any country, like France, that is centralist will
be slower to accept such a technology. A multi-channel learning system accommodates
individual preferences for ways of learning (Shrestha, 1997). Shrestha also
elaborates on the large numbers of non-literates who would benefit from the
opportunity to learn with aural/visual technologies. However, it's not sufficient
to add aural/visual technologies; teachers must be trained in the pedagogical
uses of these resources.
Wolff & Garcia (2000) comment, "Multi-grade programs usually do not
use technologies other than workbooks and face-to-face training." However,
technology-based resources have been successful and, in some cases, sustainable.
One problem in some countries is the insufficient, or inconvenient, time bands
when the educational materials are broadcast. That lack has prompted the interest
in community radio and in local, low bandwidth, stations (Buckley, n/d).
Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) has worked across continents to support the teaching of poorly prepared teachers (Bosch, 2001, 1997). In a multi-grade school, one group of students could be participating in the IRI learning while other groups who have already mastered the IRI lesson could work with those who are less sure of their knowledge. The entire school can share some programs, such as music and art, health and local topics. As in a mono-grade class, the IRI can supplement the teacher's presentation of the material and serve as additional training for the teacher.
Radio also provides a means for learning from the Internet. Community or local radio stations may have Internet access. Students or teachers can contact the station, ask a question, and then, later, hear the response. The radio station personnel may serve as translators and interpreters, retrieving information in another language, translating to the indigenous language, and, even, helping to place the information into an appropriate cultural context (Buckley, n/d).
Television has been an important instructional tool in Mexico (Telesecundaria) (DeMoura, Wolff & Garcia, 1999) and Brazil (Telecurso) (DeMoura, 1999). As with IRI, there are the same options for use in a multi-grade classroom. DeMoura, Wolff & Garcia report higher efficiency indicators for Telesecundaria than for either general secondary schools or technical schools.
The Internet and computers are generating excitement, and funding opportunities are plentiful for new initiatives utilizing these electronic technologies. Sustainability is an issue for many of the projects as is the need for reliable electricity and telephone service. There are "grass roots" initiatives that are serving remote populations, such as "Big Blue" in Zimbabwe (Bloome, 2001) and the computer center in Bindura, Zimbabwe (Bloome, 2000). These initiatives are not connected with a particular school, but their services are available to the communities they serve. As Negroponte (2001) rightly points out, the use of the Internet and computers is much larger in developing countries than any official statistics show because the use is communal, not individual. In that environment, one or two computers in a one-room schoolhouse would have a tremendous impact.
Technology in basic education for students is an add-on cost. The students
need guidance as they learn, and they need the social aspects of being with
Case Studies of Successful One-room Schoolhouse Models
The literature on one-room schools and multi-grade schools is not particularly
extensive. Too many educators regard the model as second-class,
a way of providing some education to those students from the most disadvantaged
classes. Support from education ministries is scant, and many of the schools
and teachers are ignored. Despite the neglect, there are models that work. What
has not been found is a model that can be scaled up rapidly or one that can
be adapted "as is" by other countries. Little (1994) reviewed five
models, looking for patterns of best practice and lessons that could be learned.
Little's point of observation in the case studies is the training of teachers,
one of the key factors for the development of successful education programs.
The models come from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Colombia's Escuela Nueva
shows promise as a replicable model, although the World Bank funded initiative
to take the model nationwide changed its structure in significant ways (Kline,
The models are for primary schools. Technology integration is not addressed,
an important next step that will facilitate students' ability to develop as
self-learners. Students in primary schools should develop familiarity with computer
hardware, software, and keyboard skills. Those skills will be further developed
at secondary level, when students enter schools modeled on an open and distance
learning (ODL) format.
Zambia (Mwape and Kalombe Primary Schools)
Zambia has multi-grade schools in sparsely populated rural areas. The two schools
cited in Little's (1994) case study underscore the importance of community involvement.
Population shifts undoubtedly have an impact: Mwape had out-migration as families
sought better farmland; Kalombe had in-migration, the result of a resettlement
Officially, Zambia has incorporated "formal in- and pre-service training
of multi-grade teachers" (op cit.) into the curriculum at the Malcolm Moffat
Teacher Training College (MMTTC). The reality is that
very little time or resources are invested into this training. The lack of resources
is also evident in the multi-grade schools. Lack of resources restricts the
teachers' ability to develop students into self-learners. Developing students
as self-learners is regarded as the basis of multi-grade teaching. The staff
at MMTTC believes in multi-grade teaching as a structure to develop self-learners,
to encourage teachers to adopt learner-centered pedagogy, to increase classroom
interaction, and to achieve universal basic education, but the faculty at MMTTC
does not share their belief.
In Mwape, the introduction of multi-grade classes allowed the doubling of the
number of school grades, from 4 to 7. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity
for expanded age-interaction, as discussed in Negroponte (2001), the students
were segregated into three distinct school grade groups, with the two younger
groups attending school only half a day. Parents view the school as less desirable
than one in another community; those who are able to do so send their children
to the other school. The Mwape community does not support the school either
financially or with in-kind contributions.
Kalombe, in contrast, has a strong school-community relationship. Parents viewed
the introduction of multi-grade teaching as an advantage because upper primary
grade schooling was added. The teachers tried to implement the multi-grade teaching
strategies they learned at MMTTC. The lack of resources limits their ability
to implement independent learning strategies.
Colombia (Escuela Nueva)
Escuela Nueva is an informative study of how a program can be developed and
implemented. GED 2000 characterizes Colombia as a "lower middle income
country, " with a 1995 GNP/Capita
of $2,290 (almost double the GNP/Capital in 1990 of $1,190).
The dollar value of Colombia's public expenditure on education (in constant
1990 US$) has increased dramatically, at all levels, at a rate faster than the
enrollment growth. Little (1994) discusses that the Escuela Nueva students are
performing better on standardized assessment tests than conventional school
Educators developed the Escuela Nueva model. They incorporated teacher training; developed materials that can be adapted to a local context and to the needs of the teachers and students; and established a support network of other teachers, educational materials, and trained local supervisors. The Escuela Nueva model involves all as stakeholders in its success - teachers, students, the community, and the central government.
Responsibility for learning is transferred to already literate students through
the use of self-instructional learning guides. Teachers are able to work with
those students who need additional assistance.
Kline's (2000) paper on the Escuela Nueva model reports that the model did
not translate well when expanded to a national program. The expansion, funded
by the World Bank in 1995, resulted in the loss of consistency among the Escuela
Nueva components. Less central communication and coordination, fewer teacher-training
days, lack of training guides, and "frozen" components have had a
negative impact on the quality. Expansion into new areas means there are no
local exemplar schools for teachers-in-training to visit. The original model
is well documented, but it is unfortunate that more care and forethought were
not invested to understand what made the model unique and successful. With that
knowledge, the expansion could have been done responsibly and in stages, in
a manner that would have preserved the model. Had the expansion been done properly,
we would have a model for national expansion, and Colombia would have an exemplar
one-room school system.
Guatemala (Nueva Escuela Unitaria)
Kline (2000) researched the transferability of the Escuela Nueva model and
identified Guatemala's Nueva Escuela Unitaria (NEU) adaptation as the most successful
of the several attempts. A component of the Guatemala Basic Education Strengthening
Project (BEST), and jointly funded by USAID and the Guatemalan government, NEU
is "aimed at improving rural education at a relatively low cost" (op
cit.). The NEU project shows the influence of the Colombian Escuela Nueva, but
Guatemala was careful to adapt it to its own needs. Kline comments that Guatemala
apparently learned from the "frozen" expansion in Colombia and took
steps to ensure the NEU project retained its flexibility. She cites one important
difference - Guatemala has a "diverse indigenous population
speaks 23 different languages" (op cit.). Guatemala took the time to develop
the NEU and to adapt the Escuela Nueva to its own context, including the development
of bilingual materials.
The Escuela Nueva model's "fundamental characteristics - development over
time, a structured yet flexible and multifaceted nature, extensive and varied
support for teachers, and opportunities for meaningful involvement of students,
teachers, and community members" (op cit.) was successfully adapted by
another country. The implications are that it could work in more countries.
Perú (indigenous schools)
Perú's situation exemplifies the problems many developing countries
face. Thirty-nine percent of its schools are multi-grade schools. What these
schools share are untrained teachers, a lack of resources, and cultural and
linguistic diversity. The pedagogy of multi-grade classes is not taught in Perú's
teacher training colleges. Several NGOs
are meeting this training need through programs that specifically address the
realities of teaching in the multi-grade schools: the lack of teaching materials
and formal training, absence of supervision and distance from urban centers
(Little, 1994). The AIDESEP/ISPL
program is based on the concept of supervised trainees in the schools rather
than extended time in college classrooms. "An important part of the training
course is the production of a new primary curriculum by the trainee designed
to suit the indigenous communities and their particular situation" (op
cit.). The trainee then may elect to use the curriculum during his/her three
years as a trainee teacher.
Perú's model may provide an interim step in the development of the one-room
schoolhouse model, a step that would extend the availability of education when
full classroom materials are not available. If one of the adaptations to the
model is to teach in indigenous languages, then teachers may have to work with
limited teaching materials before texts can be produced, printed, and distributed.
Sri Lanka (multi-level teaching)
Little's (1994) review of the Sri Lanka model quotes extensively from Abhayadeva's
1988 Primary Education Project work. Like Colombia's Escuela Nueva model, student
advancement is competency based rather than time-in-seat based. Two very positive
aspects to this approach is that students would not be discouraged by being
held back nor would they be penalized for times that their education was interrupted
by their need to work. The "twist" is that Abhayadeva recommends that
the Sri Lanka mono-grade primary schools be reorganized to incorporate the competency-based
model into the first three grades.
Philippines and Indonesia (IMPACT)
Initially conceived as "no more schools," IMPACT allows great flexibility
for the students. Even primary-school age dropouts may continue to participate,
at their own pace and as they have time. Their learning is supported by modular
instructional materials and supplemented by individual or group tutoring and
instructional radio programs. The concepts are mastery learning, life-long learning,
and learning without time and place constraints. Their initiative spread to
"Malaysia (INSPIRE), Jamaica (PRIMER), Liberia (IEL) and Bangladesh (IMPACT)"
(Little, p. 20, Ch. 2); each country adapted the basic model to meet their individual
educational goals and objectives.
Case Study Conclusions
One not surprising difference is that the one-room schoolhouse in developed
countries is a more expensive option, reflecting the difference in teacher salaries
and general classroom provision. But the high cost is offset by relatively high
grade-completion and retention rates, two factors that are not common in developing
countries. What often is not considered in developed countries' cost models
is the social cost imposed on students who spend additional hours outside the
classroom traveling to and from the school. For developing countries, the multi-grade
school may produce a lower cost per graduate. Developing countries also place
a high value on community and do not want students traveling to attend a nearby
The case studies reported by Little (1994) indicate that students are learning
more with less. The statistical evaluations must be used cautiously. In some
cases, the data has been manipulated; in others, the basis of comparison is
not clear. The evidence does show the necessity of well-trained teachers who
are enthusiastic about multi-grade teaching and who have resources that are
adequate in quantity and of a high pedagogical quality. Little (1994) concludes
her report with a summary of four documents, the result of studies funded by
and UNESCO/APEID. Her summary is in
the form of thought-provoking questions (see Attachment A) to be answered by
local, district, and national authorities.
Case Studies of Successful ODL Secondary
Perraton's (2000) case studies are of secondary schools in Latin America, Africa,
and Asia that incorporate the ODL model - technology integration, tutors rather
than teachers, and self-directed learning. To ensure the success of these models,
the one-room schoolhouse model is an important beginning because that is where
the foundation for self-directed learning is laid.
Telesecundaria provides an alternative form of secondary education, covering
grades 7 through 9. Coordinators, who are mainly primary school teachers, supervise
the students' work. The instruction is in the form of about thirty television
broadcasts a week. Broadcast television is viable in this model because of the
number of students: 756,700 in 12,000 centers in 1997-8. The students purchase
the commercially prepared workbooks used in conjunction with the broadcasts.
"Telesecundaria is unusual in having become institutionalized as an alternative
system of education, operating in parallel with the regular system, and using
broadcasting to meet the needs of its scattered, rural, audience" (Perraton,
2000, p. 35).
India (National Open School)
India, close to achieving universal primary education, instituted correspondence
education as a way of meeting the increasing demand for secondary education.
The National Open School (NOS) offers four levels of courses: secondary (10th
grade), senior secondary (12th grade), bridge for those who have no secondary
education (8th grade), and vocational. Students have more latitude in how they
structure their program, and they have the opportunity of sitting exams as they
complete courses rather than at the end of their program. The course work is
print based; there is no indication that other technologies are used. Enrollment
in the NOS is relatively small at 130,000 in 1998, which may reflect that courses
were offered in English and Hindi only until 1994. The NOS chairman "in
1995, looked forward to open-school methods being used to reach forty million
students in sixteen languages within ten years" (Mukhopadhyay, 1995, quoted
in Perraton, 2000, p. 38)
Indonesia (Open School)
Indonesia, also close to achieving universal primary education, developed a
system of Open Schools that are a part of the regular secondary school system.
Print is the main instructional medium, enhanced with radio and television broadcasts.
A teacher's aide is appointed to meet with the students for the required fifteen
to eighteen hours per week of supervised study. The Asian financial crisis negatively
impacted Indonesia's ambitious education plans to provide six years of primary
and three years of junior-secondary education. Indonesia limits the expenditure
on Open Schools "to 60 per cent of the cost of regular schools" (Perraton,
2000, p. 39).
South Korea (Air and Correspondence High Schools)
Like Indonesia, the South Korea model links an Air and Correspondence High
School with a regular secondary school. Students learn with a combination of
textbooks, self-instructional materials, twice-daily radio broadcasts, and classes
on alternate Sundays. South Korea has the best exam pass and completion rates
of the models studied. What is not known is "whether the teaching system,
or the social pressures of Korea's dynamic economy, have produced these results"
(Perraton, 2000, p. 39).
Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (Study Centres)
The three programs have similarities as well as thirty-year histories. "All
three countries use an approach which recognizes that these students need considerable
support and have combined the use of printed correspondence materials with support
from a tutor" (Perraton, 2000, p. 41). In some centers, the students may
also listen to radio programs or taped instructions. Shortages of materials,
lack of radios, broadcasts at times the centers aren't open are among the problems
that students encounter.
Case Study Conclusions
The models have similarities in the lack of resources and infrastructure, the
low regard for these alternative secondary schools, and the expectation that
students will be self-learners. The models all provide study centers that are
supervised by adults who have some education but who are not qualified as secondary
school teachers. With the exception of South Korea, exam pass rates are low
and drop out rates are high. Again, the question must be asked of how computer
technologies can be viable in systems that cannot provide the basics.
Reflection on the Hypothesis
The hypothesis that the one-room schoolhouse educational model of pre-industrial
America, combined with learner-centered pedagogy, distance education, and technology,
is the best plan to provide basic education in developing countries is valid.
The one-room schoolhouse continues to serve the educational needs of small,
scattered populations. It's a model with many themes and variations, each one
meeting the unique needs of a particular country. None have been developed quickly.
With the exception of Colombia's Escuela Nueva and Guatemala's Nueva Escuela
Unitaria, the costs of such programs are relatively modest.
However, to meet the goals of EFA, an
educational model is needed that can be developed quickly at low cost and that
can be transferred "as is" across national and cultural boundaries.
Will the one-room schoolhouse meet that need? No. The goal is unrealistic, and
the practice of throwing money at the problem of world illiteracy is not the
The fact is that a national program cannot be created from a local model in one step. The program must grow outward from one local community to the next until a national program is in place. The World Bank's "overnight" national expansion of the Escuela Nueva model is an excellent example of such a failure.
Memories of colonialism haunt many developing countries. Any attempt to bring
in a model and resources from another country will be met with resistance; the
resistance may become outright refusal if the provider is a developed country.
Language, culture, and traditions are a part of a national identity. A standardized
package threatens the existence of that identity. The "basic" one-room
schoolhouse model is used already in most, if not all, countries. Within that
model, local or national adaptations can be made to create unique subsets of
the model. Guatemala's Nueva Escuela Unitaria adaptation of Colombia's Escuela
Nueva is an excellent example of creating a unique subset within the one-room
The importance of community involvement cannot be overstated. Will a community
feel ownership and a commitment to make it work if the values, manner of teaching,
and content taught are not local? Any program brought in "as is" cannot
respond to those needs.
The re-invented one-room schoolhouse model must have highly-qualified teachers.
It takes time to develop programs, curricula, and local teachers. Is a "Teach
Corps" the answer? External teachers would
have to be fluent in the language(s) and in harmony with the culture of the
region where they are assigned to teach. Assuming the teachers have some language
proficiency, how long would it take to develop that proficiency, even in an
immersion program? External funding would be needed for salaries and benefits;
external teachers would command a salary commensurate with what they could earn
in their home country. Will that funding be a grant, or will it be an additional
The re-invented one-room schoolhouse model is pointed to a specific goal - universal literacy, numeracy, and technology skills. All participants must know that goal and work toward it. Is the model compatible with the Dakar Framework for Action on EFA? It depends. "Yes" as far as the ultimate goal is concerned. "No" regarding the timeframe.
The world must accept that the solution for universal basic education will
be neither cheap nor quick. The record of failed initiatives should demonstrate
that too much time, money, and human energy have been wasted in repeated attempts
to eradicate illiteracy. Some of the attempts have failed because the costs
have been too high to be sustained once external funding from the developed
countries ends. Some of the attempts have failed because the program creators
did not understand the needs and desires of the citizens. Taken together, the
costs of the failed programs will exceed the seemingly high costs of providing
needed resources and infrastructure.
Universal basic education is a goal that must be met. The size and complexity
of the undertaking are enormous. The EFA
timetable is unrealistic. The "deadline" has been extended once,
and it will be extended again. More significant than any arbitrarily set deadline
is a plan - one that establishes the what, where, how, and (a realistic) when.
Responsibility is assigned to, and assumed by, those who have the power to implement
The one-room schoolhouse is logical, and it has advantages to recommend it.
It works, it's worked for at least two hundred years, it's worked in many different
countries, and it's adaptable to meet local needs. Implementation requires planning,
and an infrastructure of human and capital resources must be a part of the implementation.
It's not cheap, but the costs are sustainable.
Highly trained, -motivated, and -compensated teachers.
Space for movable tables and chairs, book shelves, and a "creativity corner" (a space where students can safely leave projects-in-process at the end of the day)
Books and classroom supplies (paper, pencils, black- or whiteboards, project supplies, etc.).
Infrastructure - electricity and telecommunications (satellite or landlines).
Technology - radios, TVs, audio and video cassette players, computers and printers.
How will we know it's working?
More people will have more education - universal primary followed by universal secondary; tertiary may not be universal but it should be available to all who desire and are able to attend
Birth rates will stabilize, then decline - population will reach a sustainable level in each country
Standards of living will improve - health, quality food and water
How will we know when technology and distance education can be integrated?
Universal basic education is achieved - literacy, numeracy, basic computer skills.
Infrastructure is in place - electricity and telecommunications (satellite or landlines).
ODL secondary school students are self-learners and the schools have computers, printers, and Internet access.
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Since there is a degree of overlap in the lengthy recommendations which are made in the four documents they will be summarised and synthesised here in the form of questions, a format which may be useful both in work with policymakers and practitioners, and in defining developmental research work in this area. To these will be added additional points which arise from the case-studies and research studies presented in chapters 2 and 3.
Although we could start with a series of questions for the teacher in the classroom and work out from there, those initiatives which have had far reaching and lasting effects on the multi-grade classroom appear to have received support from district and national level authorities. Experience suggests that the multi-grade teacher cannot, and indeed should not, be expected to solve the problems of the multi-grade classroom alone. Hence, the list begins with questions for the national-level policymaker.
1. What is the extent of multi-grade teaching in the country? In what types of schools, and in what locations, is it prevalent?
2. Do the enrolment projections and costs of provision suggest that multi-grade teaching will continue in many schools?
3. What are the qualifications and educational backgrounds of the teachers who teach in multi-grade settings? What are the conditions under which they work?
4. Do nationally-prescribed pre-and in-service teacher training programmes (both face-to-face and distance) include content on effective teaching in multi-grade settings? Do they include content on effective teaching more generally eg self-study, peer learning, planning and organisation, alternative ways of grouping students for learning assessment skills?
5. Is multi-grade teaching a recognised field of specialisation in teacher training institutes?
6. Is there provision in nationally prescribed teacher training curricula for the practice as well as the theory of teaching in multi-grade settings? Are there model schools practising multi-grade teaching?
7. Have multi-grade techniques been considered for use in mono-grade settings?
8. Are there material and professional incentives for teachers in multi-grade schools in difficult locations? (eg salary supplements, housing, training opportunities, promotion prospects?)
9. Have attempts been made to structure the content of the national curriculum and all associated curriculum materials (eg syllabi, teachers guides) in a way that supports multi-grade teaching (eg integrated subject matter, i.e. teaching the same subject at different conceptual levels; or a modular curriculum, i.e. allowing the student to proceed at his her own pace through learning modules)? Have such attempts attracted serious support from national-level research and curriculum institutions over a period of time?
10. Have self-study materials been developed for extensive parts of the curriculum? Do these incorporate self-correction and feedback? From which age/grade can they be used? Could textbooks be designed to support self-study? Are textbooks and self-study materials available to students in adequate numbers?
11. Could national-level learning assessment schemes (eg minimum levels of learning (MLL), minimum levels of competency (MLC)) be used to support the development and structure of curriculum suitable for the multi-grade setting? Do such schemes have implications also for the mono-grade classroom?
12. Have or could adequate resources been allocated to libraries and other materials necessary to support self-leaning?
13. Is it practical/feasible to use radio/TV in support of the multi-grade teacher, both in the classroom and in the community i.e as a medium for student learning in the classroom, and as a means of mobilising community support for this way of organising schools and classrooms?
14. Is there an adequate budgetary commitment from government to support multi-grade schools?
15. Is there an understanding among national-level professionals and administrators of the cognitive and non-cognitive benefits of multi-grade teaching? Does more research need to be conducted?
16. Is there an effective mechanism for the regular supervision, monitoring and evaluation of multi-grade schools? Are supervisors supported in their work through training and through materials developed by/with them? Are supervisors expected to "police" as well as to "professionally guide" principals and teachers? If so, how are they expected to handle the conflicts inherent in the duality of the role?
17. What are the recruitment criteria used to select supervisors of multi-grade schools? Do they have any experience of teaching at the primary level, let alone multi-grade primary? How might they gain this experience? What steps might be taken to promote into multi-grade supervisory positions those teachers who have demonstrated prowess in multi-grade teaching?
Systems of education vary in the division of roles and responsibilities between national and sub-national levels of administration. Consequently many of the questions listed above may apply equally to policymakers and practitioners working at the regional or district levels. The following may also apply.
1. Are there mechanisms in place at the regional and sub-regional levels which can support the pedagogy of multi-grade teaching? Are there resource centres where teachers can meet and share experiences? Are there regular and frequent newsletters developed by multi-grade teachers for multi-grade teachers? Are there local radio networks and/or distance learning schemes which can support the teacher in the field?
2. Are there general guidelines on effective multi-grade teaching? Are guidelines developed with teachers on the timetabling of multi-grade teaching?
3. Are there administrative tasks which face the multi-grade teacher in difficult areas which could be handled more effectively by local education offices eg arrangements for delivery of materials, building repairs, monthly payments?
4. Are there ways of supporting horizontal linkages between schools so that teachers may learn from each other in situ, visiting and working in each other's schools, combining schools for cultural and sports events, competitions etc?
5. Are there ways of stimulating horizontal linkages with local community members so that assistant teachers and volunteers can support the work of the multi-grade teacher?
6. Are professional and regional level staff aware of changes at the national level which support the multi-grade teacher? (eg through changes in curriculum teacher training, criteria for promotion etc?)
7. Are there promotion and repetition policies at the regional level which are sensitive to the organisation of multi-grade classes?
1. Are teachers aware of the different ways of organising the multi-grade classroom? (eg subject staggering, subject grouping, common timetable, integrated day?) Are teachers able to discriminate between optimal ways of organising the teaching of different subjects?
2. Are teachers given guidance on syllabus coverage across the day, week, term, school year in multi-grade settings?
3. Are teachers familiar with the pedagogic advantages (both cognitive and non-cognitive) of multi-grade teaching? Are teachers able to convince parents of the advantages?
4. Are teachers able and willing to encourage self-study and peer learning in multi-grade settings? Do teachers have access to an adequate supply of high quality materials for self-study and peer learning? Do teachers have the possibilities of creating their own materials for self-study and peer learning?
5. Do teachers have access to effective and practical means for assessing learning outcomes in multi-grade settings on a regular basis? Do those assessments enable teachers to set learning tasks of an appropriate level for students on an individual basis?
6. Are teachers aware of the variety of ways of grouping students for learning (eg whole class, sub-groups, pairs, individuals?) and of different criteria for subgroups (eg by achievement, interest, friendship)?
7. Have teachers established classroom routines so that learning may continue even in the absence of the teacher (eg through the use of student monitors and access to self and group-learning activities?)
8. Are teachers sensitive to alternative ways of using space and arranging resources inside and outside the classroom for multi-grade groups?
9. Are teachers able to request support from higher levels of authority for problem-solving in relation to multi-grade teaching?
These questions may be regarded as a checklist of use in both assessing the present status and support for multi-grade teaching, and stimulating discussion at different levels of the education system about improved ways of supporting the teaching of the multi-grade teacher and the learning of the multi-grade student. As well providing a useful framework for dialogue between policymakers and practitioners, each could also usefully provide a framework for further developmental research.
The questions pitched at the level of the teacher and the classroom are particularly amenable to action research by teachers and teacher educators. Action research is distinguishable from other types of research in a number of ways. Action research is a form of self-reflective enquiry conducted by educational practitioners to understand practice and improve it. It may be undertaken by an individual practitioner or undertaken collaboratively. It involves the definition of a problem and the trying-out of an idea with a view to changing or improving a local or immediate situation.
1 For the purposes of this paper, "teacher"
refers to the person-in-charge of a group of students. No judgments regarding
qualifications, or lack thereof, are intended or implied.
2The literature has other names for this model, such as multi-grade teaching, "'multilevel', 'multiple class', 'composite class', 'vertical group', 'family class', and, in the case of one-teacher schools, 'unitary schools'" (Little, 1994). In this paper, "one-room schoolhouse" will refer to the physical structure where classes are held.
3 "Technology" means more than electronic technology. Print is a technology, as is radio, television, and computers.
4 A model for developing the electrical
infrastructure could be the Rural Electrification Program from pre-industrial
5 Orivel defines "world" technology as one where the prices for hardware, software, spare parts, and consumables are consistent across countries. He contrasts that with all other forms of educational provision where the prices are determined by local conditions.
6 "'Big Blue' is a converted Renault truck sponsored by Zimbabwe's Ministry of Education and the World Links Program, an international program designed to promote the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance teaching and learning in developing countries. As most rural schools in Zimbabwe cannot afford the capital outlay to purchase hardware and software, the van provides an ideal opportunity for introducing this technology and instruction to first-time computer learners around the country" (Bloome, 2001, p. 24).
7 "Established as a successful partnership between the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture and the World Bank-sponsored Zimbabwe-World Links for Development Program (WorLD), Bindura is one of a series of thirteen school- and community-oriented centers that were opened in 1999. Each center is equipped with Wndows and Office '95/98 software, 10 networked computers, server (running Windows NT software), printer, modem and Internet dial-up connection" (Bloome, 2000, p. 40).
8 Scandinavian countries are the notable exception; the literature from those countries may be more extensive.
9 Thanks to Susan Libby for the name. Private conversation, May 5, 2002.
10 Excerpt from Little, A. (1994). Chapter 4 - Implications for the practice of multi-grade teaching and further research. Multi-grade teaching: A review of research and practice. Education Research Paper No. 12.