Complex Instruction Program in a Hungarian elementary school

Short summary

Although the level of disadvantaged students is very high, 100 % of them continue their studies at secondary level. These are the results of the Complex Instruction Program (CIP) adapted from Stanford University but it was changed according to the Hungarian primary school’s needs and possibilities. 

The short term aim of the program is to treat children with disadvantaged background, raise the school / class performance with group work and cooperation, to find the students’ strengths where they can perform via own and group work in heterogeneous classrooms.

The complex program also contributes to the teachers’ professional development.

The key to the success is the tasks which result in multiskill development of pupils and show that every student is good at something.

Long term aim of the program is to help all disadvantageous children going to secondary schools, which helps them to appear in the future-labour market successfully. 

The Complex Instruction Program, together with 2 other elements (after school activities and cooperating with parents) comprises the strategy of Hejőkeresztúr Elementary School.

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

Social inequality is a main problem in Hungary, that education cannot decrease at the moment.

“The influence of the socio-economic background and school location (urban vs. rural) on educational performance is one of the highest in the EU. Most low achievers live in the north-east of the country, which is hit strongest by poverty and has the highest early school leaving rate.”

Hejőkeresztúr Elementary School is in the North-East region of Hungary, 160 km from the capital. Three kindergartens and two schools work together.

This is a small school with 215 students commuting from 3 villages. 68% of the pupils are socially disadvantaged.

They work with 21 teachers.

The root of the problem is the social inequality and disadvantaged situation of students, mostly Roma pupils. The heterogeneity of classes has increased that teachers hardly could handle, they did not have methods for that. At the same time students had learning difficulties, failed in performing and did not succeed in studying, hence they could not see learning as value, as their parents did not either. That caused several conflicts and resulted in frustration on both students and teachers’ side.

The complex program is appropriate when there are heterogeneous classrooms/groups that teachers want to handle successfully. Heterogeneity means different social and economic background or learning abilities as well.

The Complex Instruction Program was adapted from the Stanford University in 2001 and the Hejőkeresztúr Elementary School started to share their experiences in 2010. It means that the whole concept, together with the change of mindset at teachers’ and students’ sides need years and continuation.

Strong leadership with clear vision is a must since the representation of the program on a daily basis is inevitable.

The school uses traditional leadership model.

Based on Hejőkeresztúr’s example, the program can be altered in line with the school’ needs. This is an important element, that they did not copy the program itself, but use its elements in a smart way.

They use Complex Instruction Program in 20% of the lessons.

Success factors and processes

1. Identify main characteristic of the problem which is the heterogeneous classes and students with learning difficulties.

2. Strong vision and dedication of the school head master, together with a team of supporting teachers.

3. The know-how of Complex Instruction Program – but at the same time able to use it differently, in line with the school’s needs.

4. Teachers who are willing to learn and develop themselves.

Program (developed by Stanford University) is an instructional approach that allows teachers to use cooperative group-work to teach at a high level in academically diverse classrooms.

Teachers’ task is to make students acquire the ability of self-employed learning and provide them permanent motivation for learning.

The aim is to establish a problem based learning which involves the principles of construction, interaction, cognitive and meta-cognitive organizations, to encourage the constructive and correct criticism and to create self-criticism. It means that the tasks help to develop several skills at the same time hence every student has the opportunity to contribute and have success, not only those who are good at one certain skill practiced during the lesson.

It also prevents the domination of students with better and more developed skills while those who are less successful in a task requiring only 1-2 special skills are usually left behind.

Due to the Complex Instruction Program the aim of the teacher is to give opportunity to every (!) student to participate in the class work equally. The unique organisation of the work allows teachers to show cooperation norms, different roles in groups to the students. In order to reach it teachers have to ensure and show that all students have those skills which make them able to solve the tasks and contribute to the success of fulfilling the task.

The main slogan is: Everybody is good at something!

The tasks contain group and individual work as well both related to each other. The successful contribution of the students with disadvantaged background leads to build down the walls between students with different backgrounds, changes the hierarchy among them hence strengthen equality.

At the same time teachers cannot make routine decisions, they have to acquire new and differentiated methods and tasks to encourage the students’ abstract thinking.

However, the Complex Instruction Program (CIP) is an effective way of teaching and learning, they also kept the average methods and use CIP in one fifth of the lessons when conceptual learning and abstract thinking are in the focus.

Involved actors:

  • School leaders
  • Teachers, teams of teachers
  • Strong leadership and vision is a must
  • Students at every age in the primary school
  • Parents (in the Didactic Workshops)

Impact of measures taken

Although the level of disadvantaged students is very high, 100 % of them continue their studies at secondary level and 70% of them fulfil it with final examinations (at secondary VET school or grammar school level – the other 30% go to secondary VET school which do not provide final examination).

Development of cognitive skills is one of the results, together with the positive changes in students’ socialization. It also helps to handle status problems among students.

One of the strongest element of the success is that the staff’s children also attend to the school!

Students study and practice cooperation in heterogeneous groups. Those students show good performance and continue their studies who are usually labelled as “hard to handle”, “cannot be involved”.

Lessons learned

The main risk lies in the leadership. Dedicated leadership and clear vision is a must to implement the program. The leader has to communicate, support, facilitate, activate the staff continuously.

Nevertheless, not all of the staff supports CIP but those ones also have the opportunity to keep their own way of teaching since the method is used in one fifth of the lessons. This liberty also creates good school atmosphere and indirectly help preventing dropouts.

Any other information

The school’s strategy and pedagogical program is based on 3 elements:

Complex Instruction Program – It is an intercultural teaching-learning method based on cooperation which enhances the principle of equal opportunity in heterogeneous classroom (Stanford University)

MindLab – thinking-developing by interactive games – after school program provide meaningful time for students (Yale University)

Differential learning organizing training (Didactic Workshop, Hungary) – after school program together with the parents.

The results of the program has been monitored by the University of Miskolc. (EN)

Success stories:

Read full descriptionClose full description

Target group of good practice:

School leaders & Teacher educators




Ms Dr. habil. Emese NAGY


Hejőkeresztúr Elementary School

Institution Website:

The ESLplus portal uses cookies to improve your user experience in compliance with our data protection regulation. Cookies help us to personalise content, to monitor our website traffic using web analytics services, and to improve site functionality. By clicking on the "accept cookies" button, you consent to our use of cookies. For more information, please read our Privacy Policy, Terms and Conditions.