The aim was to generate interest in and ideas for practical solutions to support schools and teachers offering multi-grade education.
The key role players who organised the seminar were the academic leaders for teaching and learning, Drs Samu Khumalo, Asheena Singh-Pillay, and Jaya Naidoo and Mrs Mari Van Wyk.
It is hoped that this initiative will facilitate sustained interest in multi-grade teaching to promote deeper understanding; open up conversations about pedagogical issues and methodologies of teaching in a multi-grade classroom; explore the challenges confronted by both teachers and learners in multi-grade classes and identify the implications for Higher Education.
In his opening address, Dean and Head of the School Professor Thabo Msibi said, ‘We plan to prepare our students to teach and cope with multi-grade teaching. We have already developed a module in the Honours class. We hope the type of knowledge generated from the seminar leads to meaningful scholarship and research; improvements in the quality of schooling and a partnership with the Department of Education to design multi-grade courses.’
Lecturer Dr Jabulile Mzimela’s keynote address focused on teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge for teaching in a multi-grade classroom. She explained that multi-grade classes have more than one grade in one classroom, usually those that are close to each other. For instance, the same teacher will teach Grades R and One learners in one class.
‘Teachers need to have a distinctive body of knowledge as they have to be able to blend content for various subjects and identify appropriate methods to teach each subject component. They need to understand how to organise each component of the content and how to deliver it accurately to learners through appropriate methodologies. It is imperative to understand that it is a complex process for teachers to intersect content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge,’ said Mzimela.
She shared some of the potential benefits of multi-grade classrooms, which include the fact that older learners model communication skills, vocabulary, and literacy skills that benefit younger or less experienced learners, while all learners develop connections with classmates across grades and classrooms, promoting Ubuntu.
Mzimela added that teachers’ negative attitudes to multi-grade teaching is aggravated by the lack of support from departmental officials. Furthermore, teaching in a rural area is a challenge on its own that multi-grade teaching exacerbates.
She recommends that schools with multi-grade classes train teachers and offer refresher courses on how curriculum, learner discipline, classroom organisation and different teaching methods should be administered when teaching.
‘The Department of Education (DoE) should also generate and supply teaching and learning resources that are multi-grade teaching friendly. This could assist teachers to understand the advantages of multi-grade teaching. It is the duty of the Department to transform teachers’ perceptions about multi-grade teaching through networking with different stakeholders, like subject advisors and organisations that promote literacy,’ she said.
DoE Representative Mr Mazwakhe Mkhulisi said, ‘We understand the plight of multi-grade classrooms and teachers. We endeavour to train our teachers properly to secure a brighter, better future for our learners.’