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Focus group interview schedules - some examples from JDD in 2005

Here are some examples of focus group interview schedules developed by JDD students in 2005. The focus in that year was high school education, so these questions may be of particular use to those of you working with high school learners this year (but, should also be of some interest to the rest of you).
Please note that you should try to limit the number of questions on your formal interview schedule (4-8 may be optimal).

JDD interview guide
Topic: HIV/AIDS
Stakeholders: learners and teachers

What is your existing knowledge about HIV/AIDS? Where this knowledge came from?
What do you think about the issue of HIV/AIDS? (Concerns, and questions, attitudes towards HIV/AIDS, attitudes towards safe sex, myths and social stigmas, suggestions for dealing with the problem?)
What impact is HIV/AIDS having on learners (e.g. physically, psychologically, socially, economically, politically? For instance, are learners forced to remain at home to care for HIV-positive family members?)
How does HIV/AIDS education happen at school, (if at all)? Which teachers discuss HIV/AIDS with learners? Do they do this as part of the mainstream curriculum (e.g. biology class, history, guidance classes)? How is it discussed/ dealt with? Is this effective? Are teachers equipped to educate learners? In addition to the curriculum is the school actively involved in HIV/AIDS prevention (e.g. does the school distribute condoms)?
Do parents take part in the education of learners on this topic? If not, why not?


JDD interview guide
Topic: FET curriculum
Stakeholder group: Teachers

What do you know about the new Further Education and Training system, which will be introduced to Grade 10 in 2006? (It will replace Matric in 2008.) How is it different to the current system?
Have you been retrained in how to teach the new FET curriculum? If so, who did this training? What was it like?
In your view, how is the FET system different to the current system? Does it represent an improvement on the on the current system? Explain?
What needs to happen to make the new FET work?


JDD interview guide
Topic: Extra-curricular activities
Stakeholder groups: learners, parents and teachers
What extra-curricular activities are offered at your school? (Note how the term ‘extra-curricular activity’ is being defined. Sport is an obvious candidate, but what about clubs and societies for arts and special interests, Love Life games, Siyadlala, which is a Department of Sports and Recreation run programme?)
Are extra-curricular activities important? Why? Which extra-curricular activities are you personally involved in and what do you get out of them?
Who is responsible for funding and organising these activities? (Teachers, learners, parents, government, NGOs, Rhodes University, Grahamstown Foundation.)
What needs to be done at your school to improve extra-curricular work?


JDD interview guide
Topic: Desegregation and diversity
Stakeholder groups: learners, parents and teachers

Tell us about the people in your school. For example, what languages are spoken by learners in your school (first language, second and other languages)? Are there any other notable social differences between the learners in your school? If so what is the nature of these differences? (Some prompts: Class, ethnicity, gender, ‘race’, culture, religion, ‘worldview’. Probe these concepts – what do you think is meant by them?)
What is the significance of these differences, if any? In other words, how do these differences play themselves out in the classroom, in the playgrounds, the hostels and on the sports fields?
Are any of these concepts dealt with explicitly in the classroom (or on the sports fields): multiculturalism, diversity training, racism (history of apartheid, oppression and segregation), sexism? Do you think it is important that the school should deal with issues of diversity and encourage sensitivity to them? How are they being dealt with now, by whom and with what result? Who should be responsible for dealing with these issues? What is the best way of dealing with them?


JDD interview guide
Topic: School governance
Stakeholder groups: parents and teachers

What is an SGB? Who is represented on it? (Learners, parents, teachers, principals, communities.) What powers do the various individual members on the SGB have and what powers do the various constituencies represented on the SGB have – in absolute terms and in relation to each other?
What should be the purpose of the SGB? Increase democratic participation and involvement, encourage empowerment of stakeholders, or is it mostly about technocratic efficiency?
What does the SGB actually do? What decisions are made?
Should it be given more or less power than it currently has to make decisions about the school? (And more or less power in relation to what or whom – local, provincial or national departments of education, or to the principal?) The government intends to boost the power of principals – they will have power to override SGBs. Is this anti-democratic? What if the principal is not a good decision-maker?
How is the SGB working at your school?
What could be done to make the SGB work better? (For example, in what ways could parents become more involved in the school?)


JDD interview guide
Topic: Opportunities for Matriculants and early school leavers
Stakeholder groups: learners, Matriculants and early school leavers

Learners
Do you plan to matriculate? What does matriculation mean to you?
What will you do after school? Further education? Jobs? Other?
Have you been given sufficient guidance (aptitude testing, advice, information and other resources) to help you take action regarding your future?

Matriculants
When did you Matriculate? Did you get a Matric exemption?
What are you doing now?
Did Matric prepare you for life after matric? (The formal curriculum, as well as life skills and guidance.)
Were you given sufficient guidance (aptitude testing, advice, information and other resources) to help you take action regarding your future?

Early school leavers
When did you leave school? Why did you leave school?
What are you doing now?
Did school prepare you for life after school? Explain.


JDD interview guide
Topic: Support to local schools
Stakeholder groups: Rhodes Education Department, Department of Education, NGOs

NOTE: The in-depths interviews with the stakeholders mentioned above will no doubt differ, depending on who you are speaking to. The questions below are a general guide only:

What kind of support do you provide to local schools?
Which local schools benefit?
Why is there a need to provide support to schools? What problems/ deficiencies do local schools face (generally and in terms of the specific services that you offer)?
How is the support offered/ rendered?
Are you able to meet demand for your services?
What would make your job easier?
What support services could/ should be offered to schools that are not already being offered?


JDD interview guide
Topic: Language policy
Stakeholder groups: learners, parents and teachers

What are your first and second languages (and any others)?
Which languages do you study at school (as languages)? E.g. English, Xhosa, Afrikaans.
Is your English teacher a mother tongue English speaker?
Questions for learners at Xhosa-dominant schools only:
What is the medium of instruction for the rest of your subjects (e.g. maths, science, history, geography, biology etc.)? When did English become the medium of instruction for these subjects (e.g. at which grade did you convert from mother tongue instruction to English instruction)?
How many of your teachers are proficient in English?
How much of any given lesson is given in English and how much is given in Xhosa?
Do you find English language instruction difficult? Explain. Would you prefer mother tongue instruction?
Questions for any learners/ teachers/ parents:
Are you aware of the Ministry of Education’s proposed new language policy? (If they are not, explain it - English and Afrikaans optional, and offering learners the choice of studying any two of the country's 11 official languages)
What do think of the proposed changes? Which 2 languages would you ideally like to study?

JDD interview guide
Topic: Quality teaching
Stakeholder groups: learners, teachers, principals

Questions for learners only:
What do you think of your teachers? Strengths and weaknesses? (MARKERS: Are they knowledgeable? Are they approachable? Are they reliable? Do they have strong teaching ability? Are they committed?)
What improvement would you like to see from your teachers?
Is there enough dialogue between teachers and parents in your school? Explain.
Is there enough dialogue, mutual respect and empathy between teachers and learners in this school?
Questions for teachers/ school heads:
What is the teacher qualification profile in this school?
In your view, is there a link between a teacher’s qualification and the quality of their teaching? Explain.
What is your view of the quality of teaching in this school? Strengths and weaknesses? (Are teachers reliable/ committed/ able/ knowledgeable?)
Is there any dialogue between teachers and parents? Is this important? If so, how can it be improved?
Is there enough dialogue, mutual respect and empathy between teachers and learners in this school?
How would you describe teacher morale in this school?
How important is leadership (either from department heads, principals or from SGBs) in improving the quality of teaching and learning in this school?

JDD interview guide
Topic: Generation gap
Stakeholder groups: learners, parents and teachers

Teachers and learners:
Describe the relationship between teachers and learners in your school. (Some key words: Power dynamics, co-operation, respect, dialogue, mutual respect and empathy).
How important are these relationships to the success of the school? Explain.
What are the obstacles to better relationships between teachers and learners? What could be done to improve the relationship between teachers and learners?
What do you think of corporal punishment? Does corporal punishment happen in this school (despite the fact that it is against the law)? Should it be reintroduced?
Are there any problematic/ inappropriate aspects to the relationship between teachers and learners at this school? (For example, learner and teachers drinking/ smoking together; sexual relationships; sexual harassment; sexism; racism; other forms of physical or emotional abuse, etc.)


Learners and parents
Do parents play and active role in the education of their children? If so, how? If not, why not?
Do parents take part in the education of their children on issues of sexual health, HIV/AIDS, life skills and so on? If so, how? If not, why not?
Describe the relationship between parents and their children. Key words: Control, co-operation, guidance, dialogue, alienation, embarrassment, mutual respect and empathy.
How important are these relationships to the success of the child’s education? Explain.
What are the obstacles to better relationships between parents and children? What could be done to improve the relationships?
What do you think of corporal punishment? Does corporal punishment happen at home?
Are there any problematic/ inappropriate aspects to the relationship between parents and children? (For example, physical or emotional abuse/ violence, etc.)


Background: General themes and issues

These should be useful in giving us direction when we start concretising the overall aims of the project. (In other words, what issues is the project as a whole trying to address, etc.?

a. Apartheid heritage still defines much of what is currently taking place in schools in Grahamstown. Assessment of current situation must take cognisance of the past. Related issues:
- Existing disparities between rich and poor schools – are these being challenged or entrenched? Urban\rural divide (e.g. farm schools)?
- Cultural diversity, and the extent to which it is recognised/ encouraged
- Transport to schools, geographical location of scholars in relation to the 'better' schools

b. Education and democracy:
 The way decisions are made, and how people are involved in this;
 The way decisions are executed:
 The spending (and underspending) of budgets
 The disconnection between local, provincial and national structures
 Technocratic culture, bureaucracy etc
 Rhetoric versus reality
 Communication

c. Education as a gateway for young people:
 access to jobs;
 access to tertiary education, etc

d. Alienation of learners: The "generation gap" - disconnect between scholars and teachers, scholars and parents.

e. Teachers: quality of teachers/ teaching, teacher qualification profile, teacher training, teacher morale.

f. Syllabus change: language, OBE, ICTs, transformation


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