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Gamifying mathematical education to foster flexible learning in Out-of- School children of Pakistan

Pakistan has been unsuccessful in developing a coherent formal system of education; and is facing the daunting challenge of overcoming increasing dropout rates and illiteracy. Due to unsatisfying performance on these indices Pakistan is among the 21 countries confronting an extensive learning crisis.

Books published by educational boards focus more on rote learning and memorization rather than conceptual learning, thus, fail to meet the standard of imparting quality education. Majority of the population in Pakistan cannot afford private schools due to high fee structures. Other than the need of revising the curriculum content of our public educational system, there is a huge percentage of population, which does not have the opportunity to go to school. Pakistan has almost 5.5 million children that are out of school, the second highest number in the world only after Nigeria. Thus, in these circumstances, there is a lack of sufficient learning material for them that would enable them to study on their own pace. The limited educational budgets and resources are unable to fulfill the growing demands for meeting the general standards of formal education that is, the school buildings, hiring teachers and training them and printing a large number of text books. There is a high demand of educational material that can teach out of school children through fast track so that those students can also join the mainstream education when they grow up.

UNESCO reports that in 2012, 61 million children of primary school age and 71 million of lower-secondary school-aged children were out of school over the world. Without bold and sustained action, global commitments to universal primary education will not be realized if current trends continue, leaving millions of children out of school and denied their right to education. Flexible Learning Strategies (FLS) represent a shift away from a piecemeal approach to provision for the educationally excluded towards more systematic, flexible and rights-based/inclusive interventions, appropriately designed to match their needs and circumstances. The objective of FLS is that, regardless of mode, duration and place of study, excluded children can acquire solid basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as the competencies and life skills required to live safe and dignified lives.

FLS have proved to leave a positive impact on student academic achievement, motivation and classroom engagement. A learning application aimed to teach mathematical concept of  measurements was developed especially for out of school children of Pakistan. This study was conducted on 200 children belonging to out-of- School Children school in various localities of Islamabad. The Out-of- School Children school (OSCS) is a charity school that aims to provide free quality education to poor children who have never gone to formal proper school due to financial constraint in the family or due to over age. The school resides inside the building of Federal Government school in Islamabad. In this school students are provided quality primary education in a shorter duration of time so that they are able to enter mainstream education along with students of their age groups. They are also given free lunch, books, copies, uniform, stationery and other necessary requirements.

These students belong to low income families and age ranges from 8 to 15 years. They are mostly hawkers and part time workers in streets, workshops and Sunday market. They don’t have any formal schooling and educational level of each child is different from one another Typically, it is the marginalized, poor and remote rural populations, and those affected by conflict and discrimination, who are denied access to school. Poverty and vulnerable livelihoods are overarching, cross-cutting factors in exclusion from school. Most poor and vulnerable children come from identified groups but often belong to more than one category, resulting in multiple disadvantage and marginalization. There are factors within society that create differential demand for education and differential ability to take advantage of educational opportunities. The learning game was developed by the students of MS –ITE (Innovative Technologies in Education) NUST, Pakistan embedding the most appropriate learning theories and having targeted learning outcomes especially for out of school children. Usability testing of the application was performed before hand to avoid and fix any usability issues found.

The results of the intervention found out that there was an overall increase of 58.3% between the scores of experiment group on the achievement of higher level learning outcomes before and after the intervention. Similarly, the control group achieved 24.8% increase in the achievement of higher level learning outcomes. In a nutshell, after the intervention, an overall increase of 15.9% was noticed between post-test scores of experiment group as compared to the control group. This large percentage increase in the scores indicates that self-paced learning may be achieved through digital game based learning without the need of an instructor if, firstly, the games are pedagogically designed based on the principle of scaffolding learning, and secondly, provide clear instructions and demonstrations to grasp the concept before attempting at playing the certain game level Features of bi lingual instructions and use of constructivist learning theory were helpful for these marginalized students to learn at a faster pace and be able to join the main stream education. The game covered the curriculum for grade 1 to grade 5, this multi grade teaching,  accompanied with activity based learning was able to respond to the diverse contexts and needs of excluded children. Other than increasing student academic achievement, student motivation an student engagement in multiple dimensions in the classroom the game was used to access student approaches to learning mathematics and conceptions adopted by students to learn mathematics so that students can be shifted towards higher level of conceptions and approaches to learn mathematics. Below mentioned points of the game application were highlighted by the students that helped students to learn and better understand the mathematical concept of measurement:

1. Concept building through games

This application helped students to learn few more useful ideas other than measurements (tall/short), for example students said that they got to know how they can make home, how to take care of farm animals, which animal live where

2. Age appropriate language

Students agreed that all of the activities further helped them to understand and test their knowledge of concept of measurement Students were also keen to play more games for subjects like mathematics, English and Urdu

3. Assessment

Idea of positive reinforcement and concept of collecting gold stars motivated lot of students to play the game. Students say that they wanted to collect more and more stars. If the red star came they used to play the game again and try to give correct answer so that they can have gold star Students liked listening to positive words of well-done and good work, they proposed that excellent should be used in upcoming games They said that in our classroom it happens rarely that teacher praise us on every questions and to every students so this praises us and we like it a lot

4. Self-paced learning

All the students studying in out of school children had varied educational background due to which self-paced learning feature was found to be beneficial for every child. SO that every child can learn the concept at his/her own speed.

5. Perception

All of the students agreed that they like to learn by playing as it is fun for them they can actually see things appending in front of them and they can repeat it as many times as they want, they enjoy their classroom time being spent like this and want that other subjects like Urdu, English and science should also be taught through games.

It can be argued that game based learning was highly engaging because the students were actively involved in the lesson. Even findings from the observation data showed positive responses through their facial expressions and posture. The students’ smiles and constant fix of their eyes to the tablet screens showed that they were highly engaged and enjoying the experience. The attractive child friendly characters and the easy manipulation of objects through their fingers on the tablets helped in paralleling simulations of real world processes. Most of the students were keen to play and learn more from these games as they became aware that they would be able to apply this knowledge in the real world also. Student’s vocabulary was also seen to be improving as they were learning some new words of English as well. Teachers also agreed that this medium of teaching can be helpful in teaching multiple concepts or languages at the same time. Students were observed to play game again and again on their own and they wanted to collect more coins in the game by correcting their mistakes

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