FROM INDUSTRY TO COMMUNITY:
“We still educate children by batches. We put them through the system based on their age… Why? Why
do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how
old they are? It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture… If you are
interested in the model of education, you don’t start from a production line mentality” – Sir Ken Robinson.
While we realize that the 21st century brings more changes, more complexity, and greater connections
than ever before, we continue to educate children based on the efficiency of industry, rather than the
creativity of a diverse learning community. Why is it that schools today resemble assembly lines- with
students being packaged by their “date of manufacture,” rather than individual ability levels, learning
styles or interests? Why is age such an important factor in grouping students, while in the world around
us age seldom determines who we collaborate and connect with? While students of the same age may
share a common birth year, often times their individual needs are spread out over a wide continuum of
learning that can be neglected when chronological constraints take priority.
Based on this premise, ASB’s R&D Team formed a task force to research and gain a deeper understanding
of Multi-Age Classrooms (MAC), and the impact they may have on the future of education. The following
is a synopsis of their findings and a plea for schools of the future to consider more than a date of birth
when grouping 21st century learners.
For years Montessori schools have been centered on the principle that students learn at their own rate.
This rate is not dependent upon the date a child is born. The Semarang International School in Indonesia
is a Multi-Age Learning Community, and explains to parents, “Focusing on stages rather than ages does
not mean that your child is progressing more slowly or quickly than the other children. It would be
ludicrous to presume that all toddlers, once they reach the age of two, are toilet trained and talk in
sentences – some will, some won’t but they all will in the end. Stages of all sorts continue throughout
childhood”. As students in a Multi-Age Classroom are supported based on individual readiness, studies
have shown that these students experience less pressure to learn at a specified rate (Veenman, 1995).
This aspect of Multi-Age programs has proven effective in schools, and is termed competency-based
learning (Mack, 2008). The idea of competency-based learning refers to academic and developmental
growth of students in a multi-age program. Students learn new materials as they are ready, regardless of
their age, and teachers help them advance as far as they are able (Mack, 2008). This allows children to