Year: 1993

Author: Marland, Perc

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Concerns about issues of equity and social justice in Australia have focussed attention on the educational provisions for children in rural Australia. Because many of the schools in rural communities are small, many of the classrooms in which rural children are educated are multi-grade classrooms, that is, classrooms in which one teacher may be responsible for teaching at least two, and as many as seven, primary grades. Obviously, efforts directed at improving the quality of education for rural children must address the challenge of improving the quality of multi-grade teaching and the preparation of those who teach in multi-grade classrooms. Multi-gradedness is not just a feature of rural schools, however. Schools in urban settings may also have one or more multi-grade classrooms, either by necessity or choice. Though some schools are compelled to form composite or multi-grade classes because of low student enrolments in one or more year levels, other schools deliberately elect to form multi-grade classes because they see educational benefits in, and are committed to, a multi-age or family group philosophy. Multi-grade classrooms, therefore, are dotted all over the educational landscape. They can be found in large as well as small schools, and in town and city schools as well as those in rural communities. Moreover, multi-gradedness is not an uncommon occurrence. Some indication of the incidence of multi-gradedness can be gained from the fact that, in 1990, 34% of Australia's 7000 schools had student enrolments of under 100, and so were small enough to make multi-grade classrooms a necessity (Schools Council, 1992). To this number can be added those large schools which have opted for multi-grade classrooms or have been obliged to form composite classes. Because a sizeable proportion of Australia's youth receive their primary education in multi-grade classrooms, one might expect that teaching in such contexts should figure prominently in programs of preservice teacher education. Apparently, this is not the case, at least in Queensland. This issue has received little attention in teacher education faculties in this state. A recent survey of about 900 Queensland teachers (Board of Teacher Education (Q), 1988) indicated a serious deficiency in the pre- service preparation of teachers in respect of teaching in multi- grade classrooms. This study showed that, whereas an overwhelming majority of primary teachers in the survey believed that multi- grade teaching should be an important focus in pre-service programs, it actually received very little attention. Furthermore, the authors of this study reported that some teacher education institutions in Queensland did not even arrange for prospective teachers to have at least some practicum experience in multi-grade classrooms.