On 13 November 2008, we kicked off our Ed Links programme activities with a set of focus group discussions in Jamshoro, with students of Classes VI-VIII. These discussions are part of the process for the development of math and science learning material. The main purpose of talking with students was to understand their existing interests, issues and experiences in studying math and science in schools. It also helped in gauging their access to, and perceptions about, the use of technology for learning in and outside of school, on their own or with their peers and teachers.
Not surprisingly, of the 48 students in Jamshoro, not more than 12 had ever seen or touched a computer. The majority of these 12 were male students who were enrolled in a computer course after school or in very rare cases, had a computer at home. Some of the responses reflected very interesting perceptions about teaching and learning. For instance, almost 90% of the students said that they had not learnt anything of maths, science or technology on their own and asserted that unless there is a teacher, no learning can take place. After a few more probing questions, the students shared how they had figured out how to use mobile phones for text messaging and playing games. Examples of learning from TV channels, cricket, video games and finally each other were then shared.
During our discussions with teachers, they complained that there were too many units and exercises in the math and science textbooks, which made it hard for them to cover the syllabus. Three of the six teachers had recently attended math workshops but confessed that they had not applied anything in the classroom because of the large number of students and immense workload.We found the interaction very useful for determining the nature of the digital learning materials we will be developing. A few more focus group discussion are scheduled with students and teachers in Balochistan and in Karachi.