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|
“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.
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.|
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.|
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.