24 August 2015

Small schools and quality education

By Hugh Delaney

With only 72 students, Noen Wiang in Nakhon Sawan Province is a small school. That’s not exceptional in Thailand, where over 50% of schools fall into the small school category – defined as having less than 120 students. With a declining population, the number of small schools in Thailand is expected to increase over the coming years, with most small schools located in rural areas.

Kindergarten children learning about shapes and sizes
Prapaphak Jadjan has been Director of Noen Wiang for ten years, and with a teaching staff of only four, she has in the past struggled to provide quality teaching across all grades from Kindergarten through to sixth grade.

“Before, teachers used to switch between one class and another, and one group was always left without meaningful instruction or activity at any one time”, Prapaphak told me on a recent visit to the school. ‘But that was before teachers received specialised training on multi-grade teaching, which has allowed children of different grades and abilities to be taught together”, she added.

Visiting the school, I observed that one teacher was providing lessons to children from grades 1 and 2 together, while another teacher grouped children from grades 3 and 4 together, with a similar approach taken for grades 5 and 6. The Kindergarten session brought together children aged 3-5 in the one setting, under the watchful eye of their teacher Bang Orn.

Observing grades 5 and 6 work and learn together, two children caught my eye. Sataporn (age 12) and Narawith (age 11) are not officially in the same grade, but they are learning side by side, with the older boy taking on the unofficial task of supporting the younger child’s learning. 

“This is a good way to involve children in their own learning and to make the class more active”, their teacher Sulilat, told me as I sat in on her class. “The older children are also facilitating the learning of the younger pupils and that makes the learning more relevant and more likely to be retained by both” she added. “Of course, I have to make sure that the older students have mastered their own areas before they spend time helping others, but it’s part of the learning process to have to explain something you have learnt to others”.
Narawath (left) and Sataporn (right), with their teacher, Sulilat, in the middle.
Through a translator, I asked the children how they found this way of learning and working together. “Learning together makes the day enjoyable”, offered Sataporn – “and I’m happy to help Narawath”. For his part Narawath told me that he learned more and understood quickly how to solve problems, when being helped by a classmate.

Mutli-grade teaching requires a high level of training and preparation from the teachers, and one or two did tell me that it wasn’t easy at the beginning. “The key is to identify a topic or learning area which can be used across the learning objectives of more than one grade. Then you have to introduce activities for children in the class based on their grade and their level of ability, so understanding the abilities and progress of each child is important”, one teacher told me.

Some of the materials developed by UNICEF to support teachers and schools for multi-grade teaching.
Specific learning and teaching materials are invaluable to the multi-grade teacher, and UNICEF has worked closely with the Ministry of Education to develop tailor made guides and lesson plans to assist teachers in their work. Training sessions with teachers both within the schools and at the local Teacher Resource Centres have also strengthened teachers’ skills and confidence in the approach. To date, teachers in over 500 schools have been trained in multi-grade teaching with UNICEF support. The partnership with the Ministry of Education also includes UNESCO, which is currently documenting good practice in multi-grade teaching in different parts of the country.

Most small schools in Thailand are located in rural areas, many of which are disadvantaged compared to major urban centres such as Bangkok. Smaller schools find it more difficult to compete with bigger schools, with inadequate resources to provide quality education to all students. This has been evidenced by Thailand’s performance in recent international learning assessments, where smaller schools have performed poorly in comparison with many larger schools in Bangkok and other major urban areas. Multi-grade teaching is only one of several approaches to address this inequity in the system, together with greater investment and more targeted support to smaller and under-performing schools.


  1. Sawadee Krap
    I live in Thailand part of the year since my wife is thai
    I am interested in visiting that school for i am a former teacher ; Spanish ( we live most of the year in Andalucia) English and french ( I am Belgian)

  2. Sawadee Krap
    I live in Thailand part of the year since my wife is thai
    I am interested in visiting that school for i am a former teacher ; Spanish ( we live most of the year in Andalucia) English and french ( I am Belgian)

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