A multigrade approach to literacy in the Amazon, Peru: School and community perspectives

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Multigrade schooling in Peru, as in other developing countries, is widespread and serves a large segment of the population. There are currently 23,419 multigrade schools in the country representing 73% of the total number of public primary schools. In rural areas, 9 of every 10 schools are multigrade and 70.6% of rural students attend them (Montero et al., 2002). Despite the number of multigrade schools no consistent pre-or in-service training is offered to teachers. Material conditions in which multigrade schools operate are usually poor, and there is a lack of support from central or regional offices for such schools. In addition, the rural context that characterises most multigrade schools is often neglected by policy makers, curriculum designers and even teachers. This chapter is based in an ethnographic study of a rural multigrade school in the Peruvian Amazon. The case study allows us to uncover how, despite the lack of training, resources and support, teachers develop a range of strategies to cope with the multigrade classroom. In researching these strategies and comparing them with others found elsewhere it is possible to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of these strategies and the points that deserve further attention. One particularly important consideration is the need to incorporate children's social contexts, and particularly their ways of learning outside school, since some of these features can be especially useful for multigrade classrooms. Because of the importance that literacy learning has for Peruvian rural population,1 I choose to focus my attention in this area. The study draws on two theoretical perspectives which highlight the social nature of literacy and learning. On the one hand, I use the framework provided by the New Literacy Studies (NLS), which considers literacy as a social practice, implicated in power relations and embedded in specific cultural meanings and practices (Street, 1995; Barton, 1994; Barton and Hamilton, 1998; Bloch, 1993). On the other hand, I use socio-cultural theories of learning which emphasise the importance of meaning and social context and move from a traditional conception of learning focused mainly in coding and decoding skills to one that focuses mainly on the social nature of literacy learning and practices (Czerniewska, 1996; Stromquist, 1997; Crawford, 1995; Fosnot, 1996; Steffe and Gale, 1995). According to both perspectives, this study addresses not only the multigrade school, but also other domains in the life of rural children, such as home and community, in order to understand the complexities of literacy learning (and learning in general). Both perspectives provide a useful framework to address the social context of students, and also to question the traditional graded division inside schools (the monograde model), which tends to be considered as the ideal or normal by most educational systems. Indeed, looking through the lens of these social and educational perspectives, it appears that a particular view of literacy involves particular teaching methods. These particularities apply not only to ways of teaching literacy, but also to the school's instructional organisation, an issue that is especially important in this study. Links can be established, for example, between a technical approach to literacy and the long-dominant focus on literacy in schooling based on skill dimensions of reading and writing. Educational perspectives (e.g. developmentalist, connectivist) that see literacy as a set of isolated skills that can be arranged into a skill hierarchy and therefore taught as a series of steps tie in well with a division of children by ages and grades in which different skills will be taught step by step. NLS, meanwhile, represents new conceptions that see literacy not merely as a technical matter, but as a socially and ideologically embedded practice. This conception matches with a shift in educational perspectives towards a meaning-centred approach (e.g. emergent, constructivism, whole language approach, critical literacy) and a reflection on social and cultural practices in which literacy learning takes place. These theoretical perspectives enable us to see multigrade schools in new ways. The shift towards meaning in teaching and learning literacy makes it possible to involve children of different ages and grades in shared activities. Both despite and because of their differences, children's social interaction offers a rich opportunity for learning experiences. Multigrade classrooms, which used to be considered a problem from the point of view of the monograde curriculum and instructional strategies, can be reconsidered as viable and enriching educational environments. This potential shift is illustrated by this chapter. The chapter presents a brief overview of the Peruvian educational context, highlighting how recent changes in educational policy have opened up possibilities for multigrade teaching, while simultaneously posing several limitations. Then, the multigrade school is analysed, with particular reference to teachers' classroom management strategies, their conceptions about literacy learning and the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy used. The fourth part addresses the learning context outside the classroom to highlight features that can enhance the potential of multigrade classrooms. The final part presents some conclusions.

Idioma originalInglés
Título de la publicación alojadaEducation for All and Multigrade Teaching
EditorialSpringer Netherlands
Número de páginas20
ISBN (versión impresa)1402045905, 9781402045905
EstadoPublicada - 2006
Publicado de forma externa


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