By CEID Blogger, on 12 February 2024
By Vanessa Ozawa
I feel so tired, physically and mentally, I am seriously tired. I dream of the day I finish all these stressful days… November 22, 2022, 18:20, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Field journal
Regardless of the level of planning and preparation, for doctoral scholars with limited resources, notably time and budget, the fieldwork realities can take an emotional toll. However, those struggles are rarely discussed in the increasingly competitive neoliberal academic space. In this blog piece, I reflect on my experiences as a doctoral scholar, to demystify doctoral fieldwork and call for more humane scholarly space, where researchers’ struggles and vulnerability are more empathically recognised as much as their research originality and innovations.
My research explores the educational experiences of Uzbekistani youth and the formation of their national identities. More precisely, it aims to understand how formal educational processes, including their experiences at school environments, shape their national identities through the intersectional lens, accounting for their ethnicity, gender and religion as key national markers. Given the complexity around formations of national identity and cultural diversity in Uzbekistani society, the research adopted an ethnographically informed qualitative approach, involving participant observation, oral history interviews, photo-elicitation and focus group discussions with Uzbekistani youth, mainly enrolled at public universities in Tashkent, aged from 18 to 20, who had just completed their compulsory school education and whose memories of schools were still relatively fresh. In my mind, my fieldwork plan was impeccable at that time, however, once I started my fieldwork, it did not take too long before my confidence was quickly disenchanted. Notwithstanding that, I had gained several prior fieldwork experiences in Uzbekistan both as a Masters student at UCL Institute of Education and then as a development practitioner associated with an international agency, which had enabled me to appreciate the unpredictable nature of fieldwork and its “messiness”. However, challenges I faced for my fieldwork as a doctoral student this time were beyond my expectations that I could have fathomed with my prior experiences.
The dichotomous understanding of researcher’s positionality as insider or outsider often disregards researchers’ complex identities and the messiness of the research setting. More importantly, the power dimensions in social relations in research contexts, and researcher’s positionalities need to be understood as situational, reciprocal, and fluid. For me, as an international researcher, conducting the study in a non-native setting triggered a myriad of methodological, conceptual, ethical and logistical difficulties and dilemmas. Whilst any researcher would inevitably experience difficulties unique to each context, foreign and local scholars face divergent advantages and disadvantages during fieldwork due to their different or similar cultural and social obligations, expectations and familiarity with the research context. Once I was exposed to the realities of the fieldwork, for the first time, I truly understood the meaning of a “research proposal”, which had made through the viva stage. As the fieldwork began, I realised that I was better prepared for methodological hurdles than for the practical difficulties. Throughout my four-month long fieldwork in Uzbekistan, I kept a daily digital journal, a personal space where I could candidly reveal my thoughts, reflections, and emotions. Among those, the most recurrent topics included the struggles to recruit an interpreter and participants and how to retain them. The repeated failure to even find a reliable interpreter and loss of initial few weeks in this process led to concerns about completing the fieldwork within the timeframe. The recruitment of participants was also delayed as I had to completely rely on gatekeepers and employ a snowball sampling method. Moreover, the selected participants often canceled meetings at the last minute or dropped out altogether after a couple meetings, a common struggle in an ethnographic study with youth, causing huge stress at times. This was coupled by the anxiety of exceeding my budget for fieldwork. As soon as I started working with my interpreter, who not only helped me navigate social and cultural complexities but also introduced me to some participants, I was finally able to regain my excitement and enthusiasm though my concerns, struggles and frustrations continued. What I learnt from this phase of ordeal was the importance of flexibility, patience, resilience and persistence when plans fail, and one has to adapt to the unpredicted situation in the field.
Whilst these were not the only hurdles I encountered during my fieldwork, and all researchers are likely to get tormented by similar issues, being a non-resident foreigner, female and basic speaker of the languages of the research context amplified my challenges. I also did not have the luxury to extend my stay beyond the four-month period due to limited finances which were all consumed in international flights, interpreter’s salary, accommodation, gifts for gatekeepers and bills for occasional restaurant and café with my participants. It was also the time when there was an influx of Russians in Uzbekistan to avoid Russian government’s “partial mobilization” policy to involve in the Ukrainian conflict. This meant that accommodation rents in Tashkent suddenly skyrocketed. My hostel unexpectedly decided to raise accommodation charges, which I had to dispute with the hostel manager. I almost had to sign a new lease for an apartment outside Tashkent through random people I had met on the day of crisis. Even though I agreed to a renegotiated price, I needed to borrow cash from my local acquittances since the hostel accepted payment only with local bank cards or cash which I did not have. Although these incidents might seem private logistical matters and not academic enough to be considered within the scholarly discussions, these were very much part of my fieldwork which were simply underrealised during the pre-fieldwork phase. After a few months in the field, I was simply exhausted, realising how underprepared I was for these practical eventualities and my “readiness” for the fieldwork was simply not good enough.
Now, that I have completed my fieldwork and am approaching the final stage of my doctoral journey, I sometimes get asked what my advice would be for those who are preparing for fieldwork. I always answer with the phrase – “expecting the unexpected”. Whilst the quote seems obvious, we often tend to forget it in the research planning processes as mostly, the focus is on scholarly debates on theories, methodologies, ethics and methods. For most doctoral students, the approved research proposal, for which we spend months and years, acts upon our mind like the ultimate guidebook for fieldwork until one faces the chaos of the fieldwork adventures. Nevertheless, although often not discussed enough, the bumpy realities of fieldwork are a path that no one can avoid; it is an integral part of research, which mentally and emotionally affects the researcher and research processes, exacerbating the adverse effects of already isolating doctoral journey. Although all scholarly work is usually built upon unspoken hardships of the scholars, there are rarely any spaces to reveal and share the personal stories of hurdles and struggles. What is expected of early career researchers is their display of flawless intellectual capacities and high-quality research approaches and findings, within the competitive neoliberal space of the higher education community. However, the realities of fieldwork, particularly in social sciences and education research, are never “neutral nor hygienic”, as it is embedded “within networks of power”, inevitably eliciting a range of “unexpected”, influencing and altering research processes.
Hence, academic space needs to be more open to humanistic debates where scholars, especially early career researchers, can safely share their personal experiences relating to their fieldwork without fear of being judged and labelled as “incompetent”. As education researchers, we should embrace the messiness of human interactions and our own vulnerabilities thus, the experiences of the fieldwork. Otherwise, how can we advocate and mobilise for a just society as a scholarly community?
Vanessa Ozawa (email@example.com) is a doctoral scholar at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.
A Call for Peace with Justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel – recognising the pivotal role of education
By CEID Blogger, on 6 November 2023
By Elaine Unterhalter, Tejendra Pherali, Laila Kadiwal and Colleen Howell
NOTE: This opinion piece presents the personal views of the authors and is not a statement by CEID (Centre for Education and International Development)
For comments or further information, please get in touch with Professor Tejendra Pherali (T.Pherali@ucl.ac.uk)
The people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel are facing a cataclysm, with horrific murders, hostage taking, devastating bombing over several weeks, mass displacements, and significant shortages of food, water and medical supplies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Saturday, 21 October, marked the fifteenth day in Gaza of no access to education and safe places for more than 625 000 students and 22 564 teachers, with significant destruction of education infrastructure that has taken years to put in place and will take years to rebuild. Fear of a destructive regional war with devastating consequences is widespread. Meanwhile, there has been a sharp rise in Antisemitic and Islamophobic assaults around the world, including in the UK. This blog aims to bring some insights from our work in the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), where we are linked to many individuals and networks engulfed by these events, to reflect on the implications for education of this appalling tragedy and to think about how educational processes could have potential to help formulate a different response that does not add more violence and terrible loss.
CEID is a research and teaching centre with a long history of involvement with education in low- and middle-income countries, and it has developed a body of scholarship in the field of education conflict and peace-building. From our experience with this work, we set out three themes relevant to building peace with justice. These are firstly, acknowledging the history that has created the conditions for the tragedy to unfold; secondly, taking seriously the role of education linked with structured forms of redress. Thirdly, we reflect on how scholarship in a field like education and international development can support building connections across many divisions and differently located communities.
Our analysis stems from our research on conflicts and education in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Tajikistan and Thailand. These studies highlight how, in these very different contexts, peace-making is a process that requires in-depth reflection, sustained examination of the processes that generate anger between groups, and particular kinds of actions – sometimes symbolic and sometimes material – that can look forward to moments of forgiveness. The absence of direct violence is not sufficient in itself to sustain peace because it does not address the root causes of conflict. To lessen conflict, and move towards a just peace, long-term policies are needed to address structural violence, which may be institutionalised through land seizures or extraction of natural resources, leading to dispossession and deepening inequalities, especially for indigenous communities. Divisive employment policies or education practices can reproduce intersecting inequalities. Achieving sustainable peace requires structural measures such as addressing the grievances of the marginalised and oppressed, redressing inequalities and building fairness in policy and practice in areas such as schooling, health or housing. This rests on supporting rights to self-determination, democratic participation and decision-making.
These processes require leadership that acknowledges historical injustices and is committed to social, economic and political transformation. Acknowledging painful histories and the different ways the anguish is borne by different communities has to form part of this process. In turn, while education can be part of the process of seeking to repair conflicts, it can also be deployed to exacerbate tension and hatred. A particular form of educative process is needed to animate contributions to thinking about memory, justice, peacebuilding and forgiveness. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel, and throughout the whole region, the scars of terrible wars and dispossessions have persisted over generations. The horrific events of the last three weeks have been hugely shaped by this history. But history is not destiny. Looking at all its pain, mistakes, and failures is a way to learn and attempt to build something new.
Education, which virtually everywhere is unequally distributed and of uneven quality, can be used to repress cultures, manipulate histories, glorify violence, portray diversity negatively, justify land grabs, and impose dominance. But education can also be a vehicle for fostering creative social and political innovations that can rescue societies from the trap of retributive violence. It can help develop a more critical understanding of complex histories and enable people to exercise their agency against the influence of manipulative ideologies and propaganda. A critically reflective education can support the valuing of diversity and the need to think about sustainability. It provides opportunities for redress and affirmative action to counter discrimination and injustices and contribute to combatting prejudices and stereotypes. Forms of education can heal and contribute towards forgiveness and reconciliation. Our course on Education, Conflict and Peace, gets students to engage with research which shows that a key part of peace-making entails processes that enable an examination of the root causes of violent conflict, which may be shaped by contrasting discourses, for differently located participants. Participatory approaches can help think about repair or reparations and the educational processes to support this.
Our third theme in this post relates to our field of enquiry. Education and International Development is a very malleable area in which some of the pressures of contemporary processes very quickly form areas of investigation, challenges to orthodoxies, and translations into practice. But for many of us over these last weeks, these scholarly pathways have been marked by shock, grief, silence and fear, as our concerns with education constantly raise the issue of children whose lives are being devastated by this conflict. Our hope is that we can draw on some of our store of knowledge with a sense of the responsibility our experience brings, and we do not turn away from the anguish of what is being suffered. We need to be attentive in all our teaching, research, collegial and community engagements to try to bridge the misunderstandings and address wilfully curated hatred, deepen understandings and think about how to offer support and solidarity for processes that lead to a just peace.
Any just peace for Palestine and Israel needs to start not with weapons of war but needs to entail educational processes of listening, reaching to understand, seeking not to do more harm or validate violence, but instead cultivate sensibilities for global justice, to affirm our moral bonds as fellow vulnerable humans on this fragile earth.
By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023
By Yousef Abdul Atti
Imagine you are sitting at home one day, inside a plot of land within the borders of the country you call home. The country where all your friends, your family, your memories lie. It is not really a flag, an anthem, it may not be a language, however there is a soul within the place you call home. But the inability to provide for your family’s economic needs is eating you up, the very same land that you call home, that is supposed to be a source of provision for you, is working against you. The lands that you once tended to with your very own hands, where you constructed your house, grew your garden, played with your friends are simply another tool in the arsenal of the unjust to oppress you. Your freedoms and those of your loved ones are slowly vanishing before your eyes. What do you do? You have no choice. You must leave the place that houses all your memories. You must embark on a difficult journey to find a new home.
If you are a migrant, a refugee, an asylum seeker, or a forcibly displaced person, you do not have to imagine. You live this reality. If you are Syrian, Venezuelan, Afghan, South Sudanese, or Burmese, countries from where 70% of the world’s forcibly displaced persons originate, chances are you do not have to imagine. Perhaps not all of your countrymen and women are migrants or displaced. Some may have become naturalized citizens in their host countries, providing for their families, helping their host communities, schooling their children. Others may even have ‘friends in high places’ or have reached those high places themselves. If you required their assistance, wouldn’t you expect your fellow nationals to understand? As migrants, should we not go together if we want to go far? Although it may seem too much to ask for assistance from others, wouldn’t you expect for them to at least not stand in your way, not be the reason why you cannot seek out a better future for you and your family?
The father of Sammy Mahdi was a political refugee from Iraq who was granted asylum in Belgium as he fled prosecution from the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. His son, Mahdi, a ‘born-and-bred Brusselaar’ became, on October 1, 2020, the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration. Calling himself ‘Barack Obama’, one of his first announced goals in office was to increase the percentage of deportations from Belgium; the 2020 figure of 18%, in Mahdi’s opinion, was too low in comparison to Germany’s 35%. In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021, six EU countries, including Belgium, cautioned against blocking deportations of Afghan asylum seekers. Out of the six countries, it was Mahdi who shored up the EU initiative against criticism by stating, ‘that regions of a country are not safe does not mean that each national of that country automatically is entitled to protection.’
It is no surprise that at the start of his posting, accusations surfaced that Mahdi was specifically targeting Iraqi refugees, prompting the Iraqi Minister of Immigration and Displacement to invite the Belgian ambassador for talks regarding the matter. What is interesting is that Mahdi invokes his migratory background in political speeches proclaiming that ‘migration always is emotion’ and he asserts that his father’s journey affected everyone, his family, his community, and even Iraq and Belgium.
So how come someone from a disadvantaged background ends up perpetuating the same structures that cause those disadvantages? Mahdi answers by affirming that he only wants to ‘represent…the Belgian community…based on a shared cultural background.’ He makes sure to note that he does not want to be another ‘Token Ali’. It is not entirely clear how Mahdi interprets this so-called shared cultural background. Mahdi’s own education was directed and constructed in a specific manner. His father refused to teach him Arabic, and, according to Mahdi, raised him up to be anti-communitarian. Yet Mahdi apparently aligns himself with the same humanist values as his alma mater, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUD), where he regularly shares his insights on migration, diversity and integration through social projects and guest speaking.
VUD is also the alma mater of the current prime minister of Belgium. Other alumni include Zuhal Demir, the daughter of Turkish migrants and former chair of integration in the Flemish government, and now the current European Vice-President of climate; and Nadia Sminate, a Moroccan-Belgian and current member of the Belgian chamber of representatives, the Secretary of the Flemish Parliament, and the Mayor of Londerzeel. Sminate, who celebrated the dismantlement of Unia, a Belgian public institution ‘that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities’. She is a keen advocate for ‘Dutch integration’, saying ‘I see far too often people here who are given rights, but too little see the need to set obligations in return’ because they do not speak Dutch. However, what is most telling with regard to how just one educational institution, VUD, constructs the ‘desirable migrant’ is how Demir & Sminate, despite their ‘culturally alien’ origins, have now become authorities on the mentorship of migrants in their constituencies, creating more obstacles and removing opportunities for them. In fact, Sminate was the chair for the Resolution of the Radicalization Committee in 2021, which produced a proposal that was approved by Demir, who was Minister of Justice and Enforcement in the Flemish Government at the time.
Mahdi’s understanding of education appears to exert great influence on his policies. He notes that the difference in performance between students with and without an immigrant background in Belgium is one of the largest in the world, yet he comes to the conclusion that the solution is to educate all the citizens.
On 14 June 2022, The Brussels Labour Court found Mahdi guilty of violating the asylum seekers’ right to reception.
Mahdi’s response to the court order
On 27 June 2022 he was forced to step down as Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration in the Belgian Cabinet. Not because of his indictment by the Belgian Court, but because he was elected as president of the CD&V party, the same party that graduated the majority of prime ministers of Belgium and to which the first full president of the European Council belonged.
As these cases show, when done effectively, the education system can construct the desirable migrant subject, who in turn acts as a gatekeeper to other aspiring ‘desirables’.
By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023
By Esme Anderson
‘Free Tibet’ has been a prevalent refrain internationally for decades. But what does it mean? What has been done to help preserve Tibet since that first image of a burning monk? Given that the movement is centred among exiles in Dharamshala in northern India, it gives rise to questions about who ‘true’ Tibetans are, how education constructs the ideal Tibetan, and how education can exclude those who don’t fit that description.
As I myself am a language educator, this blog attempts to answer these questions through the teaching of key Tibetan words.
Meaning: Roughly translates to “self-power” or independence
Images of burning monks have long become associated with the international image of Tibet. But is the battlecry of “Rangzen” as well known? “Rangzen” translates as ‘self-power’ or ‘independence’ – a call for self-determination that has emerged under China’s rule.
Prior to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) taking power in 1949, Tibet was an independent state. It was feudal and traditionally Buddhist, with the Dalai Lama as the state leader. But tensions with the CCP were evident as early as 1935, when Mao Zedong, the CCP leader, and his followers set off on their ‘Long March’ to rally support in rural regions. They ate the sacred and intricate butter buddhas that sat in Tibetan temples, angering and upsetting Tibetans. When the CCP took control of Tibet in 1949, the Dalai Lama was under threat given Mao’s beliefs that religion “poisons” countries and slows development. A recreation of this conversation, informed by the Dalai Lama, can be found here.
Following a crackdown on religious freedoms, protests erupted in 1959 and CCP troops were sent in. The Dalai Lama managed to flee to Dharamshala, which translates as “sacred dwelling place”. From here, the exile government has sought to preserve and keep sacred cultural heritage alive as less and less of the traditional Tibet remains.
A pivotal way in which this is done is through education. Unlike in other places that house asylum seekers or refugees, the Dalai Lama and Indian Governor of Dharamshala came to an agreement for a specialized educational policy for Tibetans. Children learn modern subjects alongside Buddhist teachings such as Yungdrung and Buddhadharma and principles such as freedom, altruism, and upholding heritage. Uniquely and importantly, they learn Standardized Tibetan (spoken in Lhasa, the Capital) in addition to Hindi and English. By stark contrast, back in Tibet itself, the final school teaching Tibetan changed its medium of instruction to Chinese in 2020.
Although the likelihood of achieving “rangzen” back in Tibet is becoming smaller and smaller, its cries are still echoed in Dharamshala as Tibetans-in-exile fight for their culture to preserve and survive.
Meaning: Buddhist; Buddhist “insider”
Nangpa on its own simply means ‘Buddhist’ and is also the name of a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site. When discussing ‘Tibetans-in-exile’, calling someone a ‘Nangpa’ means that the speaker believes that they are truly ‘Tibetan’. Interestingly, this does not connote someone’s religious values, practices, or activities. Being Nangpa means someone who is free of Chinese influence and who speaks Central or Standard Tibetan.
Meaning: Neither goat nor sheep
Pronunciation unavailable (colloquial term)
This Tibetan term is a metaphor for someone being a ‘hybrid’ and therefore not a real ‘nangpa’ and is used for newer arrivals from Tibet who have been exposed to Chinese language, modernity and influence. Such arrivals may be met with scepticism and suspicion, as shown in Yeh’s (2007) study, which followed Tenzin, who was raised in Tibet before migrating to America. His occasional refusal to be in group photos, combined with his time under perceived Chinese influence, led him to be viewed as a possible spy and dubbed a “ramalug”. An older Tibetan-in-exile felt that Tenzin could benefit from spending more time in ‘real’ Tibet. This perspective creates contradictions and complications for recent Tibetan migrants who have increasingly fled due to structural inequalities that place them at the bottom of society in Tibet.
The discriminatory treatment of recent arrivals into Dharamshala is reflected in educational policies. The Basic Educational Policy for Tibetans was last updated in 2006, and in 2017 Tibetan researcher Nawang Phuntsog reported that textbooks had not been updated for over a decade. If Tibet itself had free and open communication, this might be less of an issue because there would be other sources for updating recent history and events in Tibet. However, it is increasingly difficult to leave Tibet, with one blogger noting “Getting a passport is harder for a Tibetan than getting into heaven”. Parents send their children to the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamshala without knowing when they will next see them. Strict censorship also means that there aren’t the real-time digital communication chains that can be found in other diasporas and migrant communities. The educational policy calls for empowering students to “uphold their ancestral cultural heritage”. But lived experiences and understandings of modern Tibet, or Tibet under Chinese rule, have been excluded from the curriculum, and therefore its students may be too.
A Hindi term which translates into ‘raw’, ‘Kacha’ is used by ‘Nangpa’ to refer to Tibetan migrants from outside of Central Tibet. There are up to 52 dialects that still exist in Tibet. But these languages are not being preserved or saved overseas and are becoming gradually extinct in Tibet.
Since the education policy calls for teaching ‘mother tongue’ Tibetan, i.e. Lhasa Tibetan, there is little acknowledgement of other regional dialects. The Basic Educational Policy was intended to overhaul the curriculum away from monastic education and resolve previous inequities in monastic education in Tibet. However, it excludes other dialects and therefore their speakers from being recognised as true Tibetans.
“Ma ‘ongs pa” མ་འོངས་པ
Future is an imperative idea for Buddhists and Tibetans-in-exile. The idea of dwelling on the past, no matter how painful, is not often promoted. Living in Dharamshala, preserving Tibetan language and heritage through education are all future-facing ideas in the hopes of ‘rangzen’, or at the very least, cultural survival.
But there are other opportunities for movements towards an educationally just ‘ma ‘ongs pa’ as this short language lesson has hopefully demonstrated. Here are some suggestions as to how this could be done:
- Although adding other languages could overload students, an appreciation for different dialects should at least be acknowledged. There could be pathways by which new Tibetans-in-exile learn or teach in their native dialects in addition to learning Standard Tibetan, which would help preserve at risk histories, languages, and heritages.
- Undoubtedly, promoting Chinese in Dharamshala schools could recreate harmful power structures and is antithetical to a government in exile constructed against the CCP. However, updating the curriculum to include recent events from Tibet could help legitimize recent migrants’ experience, trauma, and conceptions of home.
- Ria Kapoor’s podcast on ‘Creating Refugee Archives’ could also prove a valuable learning and teaching tool for the government in exile and for schools.
Through such measures, the voices of recent migrants could be amplified to make them feel heard, respected, and valued. Importantly tolerance, a key value to the Dalai Lama, can be promoted through education.
By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023
By Rebecca Greenway
‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ (2019) is an Oscar nominated film set in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. On the surface, it is a beautiful piece of cinema with authentic acting, stunning scenery and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack but it also raises questions about schooling, migration and notions of development.
The film follows Ugyen, a talented singer and young teacher who is drafted to Lunana, a hamlet located eight days walk away from Thimpou, where he lives with his grandmother. An urbanite, Ugyen is reluctant to relinquish his dream of migrating to Australia to become a star. As he sheds his leather jacket and his iPod runs out of charge, layers of globalization are peeled back and he is confronted with the rites, customs and traditions of his heritage, all of which he considers parochial and backwards. The primary school he has been sent to is synonymous with many rural, remote schools with no blackboard, electricity, running water, pens or paper. Western audiences might hark for this ‘simpler’ way of life, as the humble authenticity of the villagers undoubtedly add to the charm of the film. However, the film refuses to fall into the trap of portraying a rural idyll without exploring the challenges of teaching and living in such a remote place. Collecting yak dung to stoke a fire and gathering the harvest before the onset of winter are entwined in the fabric of their existence. The forced closure of the school during the winter months reminds the viewer that the community is deeply connected to the environment and dependent on seasonal changes. The bucolic pastoralism that might have been portrayed is replaced with the realities of alcoholism, youth unemployment and hard to reach communities becoming forgotten and left behind. All of which presents a bittersweet rurality.
The happiness myth?
Bhutan is renowned for embracing the ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) development model, as the viewer is aptly reminded in the opening scene, with the words ‘Gross National Happiness’ written on the back of Ugyen’s t-shirt. Attracting interest from the world stage, Bhutan has captured the imagination of many as a kingdom which ensures the well-being of the citizens who live in harmony with their pristine environment. The GNH model rests on four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, the preservation and promotion of culture and environmental conservation. There are nine key domains, measured through 33 indicators. They include ambitious targets of providing electricity and education for all. Furthermore, an inclusive approach to recognising diverse learning needs is made explicit in the Educational Blueprint, demonstrating a step away from homogenizing education systems.
As a result of significant progress made in reducing poverty and sustaining economic growth, Bhutan is set to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) list in 2023. However, scratching beneath the surface cracks emerge. Despite efforts to provide vocational training and entrepreneurship, youth unemployment is high. An overreliance on hydroelectric power to stimulate economic growth and lack of investment in diversifying the private sector equate to limited job prospects. Pull factors, such as seeking employment overseas are witnessed in the steep rise of outward migration. This leads to a false dichotomy where the older generation Bhutanese might naively question why anyone would want to leave ‘the happiest country on earth?’
The grass is always greener
Imagined futures, opposed to static realities, are features of migration. This is captured throughout the film, as a sense of belonging and longing for something else, is in constant flux. Longing for his grandmother’s cooking is symbolized through the wooden bowl Ugyen eats out of upon his arrival in Lunana. As he dreams of migrating to Australia, he clings on earnestly to the pamphlet showing pictures of Sydney Opera house. Ironically, the pamphlet symbolically loses its original significance as he scribbles the lyrics to a traditional folk song on the back. Each time he moves, he leaves something or someone behind. Finally, once he arrives in Australia, the reality of working in a dingy bar, singing commercial songs during a noisy happy hour is a far cry from his imagined future of becoming a famous singer. Just as Ugyen’s physical journey exposes him to diverse settings, cultures and people, his intrinsic values and ideas evolve. The juxtaposing final shot of Bondi Beach to the bar where Ugyen is being paid to sing background music shows the trappings of a commodified vision of Western success.
Just as the audience is left wondering what Ugyen’s future holds, we are also left pondering the fate of the Lunana villagers and the educational provision of the children without a teacher. The way of life for rural communities is under threat. Glacial melt due to rising temperatures leads to landslides, contributing to further isolation. Pastoralists that rely on seasonal predictability will be forced to confront the challenges of climate change. Future investment in infrastructure through the development of roads will allow better access to schools and yet will engender changes to a rural way of life. Bhutan already contends with increasing rural to urban internal migration as people seek employment opportunities, access to quality education and healthcare. The challenges of safeguarding the basic needs for all are complex and manifold. This tightrope of harnessing equitable, ethical growth that respects the planetary boundaries and ensures the wellbeing for all is an ongoing challenge.
Schooling without teaching?
‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ is above all a film about development, globalization, modernity, migration and the teaching crisis. Ugyen is symbolic of a youth disenchanted with the idea of being a teacher. Retention, recruitment and attrition rates reflect this trend globally. Although there is consensus that teaching is a valuable and honourable profession that ‘touches the future,’ the teacher gap cannot be filled without societal transformation.
As a teacher, I hope for a revalorisation of the profession through improved pay and working conditions, ongoing support and professional development. However, I am also aware that there is no silver bullet to the acute teacher shortage. Country and local contexts cannot be ignored and neither can other realities, often financial, such as the large proportion of education budgets which are required for teacher salaries. Finally, measures such as fast-track recruitment programmes might fill an urgent need for bodies in the classroom but they do not address the systemic shift required to upgrade educational systems. After all, when it comes down to it, “every education system is only as good as the teachers who provide hands -on schooling.”
By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023
Imperial War Museum, London
By Isabella Hogg
When you think about migration what do you picture? Every migrant’s story is different and museums can aid in the telling of these stories while providing places of inclusion for those who migrate. Many museums host exhibits detailing the different experiences of migrants. New Land, New Hope exhibit in the Migration Museum in Adelaide, for example, shows how refugees express their experiences through interviews. Other exhibits, such as the Keepsake exhibit in the Migration Museum in London, show the stories of migration through object biography, which is the history and interactions that the objects have experienced. One exhibit that has included sound, art and object biography is the Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibit in the Imperial War Museum in London, which ran from 2020-2021. The central aim of this exhibit was to provide first-person narratives detailing migratory experiences.
Historically, many museums have adopted a Eurocentric approach to the display of artefacts. One of the first recorded museums was Lorenzo de Medici’s gem collection in Florence. Here the main objective was to store objects rather than provide a public space of learning. The first museum that was opened to the public was the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which was established in 1683, with the aim of providing a space to expand people’s knowledge on topics such as the natural world and allow people to enjoy the collection. Changing the museum environment to a space which was open to the public transformed the nature of the museum from a space of storage to a place of learning. However, this was often to the detriment of those who had been colonised; many of the artefacts that were displayed were either looted or forced from colonies. The 19th century saw many empires compete in the acquisition of artefacts as a means of displaying wealth and power, with little understanding of the meanings and cultural significance of the artefacts that were acquired. Many museums today hope to correct the mistakes of the past. Migration museums that are centred around the voices of migrants themselves can be considered examples of postcolonial spaces of learning, as they seek to address the exclusion of knowledges from the Global South and the Eurocentric portrayal of the cultures and life of people from those countries.
An accompanying exhibition to the Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibit provided visitors with immersive film of refugee camps within Greece, with the intention of showing the lived realities of refugees living there. When people were asked their feelings about what they had seen, they stated it was moving and humanising, a sharp contrast to media portrayals of refugees which often mask the reality of everyday experiences within the camps and contribute to refugee feelings of exclusion. In reference to Syrian refugees, for example, the media was seen to display them in three contrasting ways: as dangerous and a burden to society, as helpless and in need of aid, and through humanising stories with the intention of gaining empathy. These different depictions of refugees can contribute to the formation of stereotypes based on western views. Museum exhibits such as Refugees: Forced to Flee can help counter over simplified western constructions of refugees.
The exhibit has also utilised art and music and the creation of soundscapes to provide more immersive experiences, which can aid in the learning process and help form emotional connections. Other museums have used similar methods to engage visitors, including the Paris-Londre Music Migrations exhibition in Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in Paris, which explored the power that music held in providing migrants with a voice and the ability to make their mark on the culture and society within Paris and London.
Exhibits that are based on collaborations with refugees and migrants also construct environments that can elicit feelings of self-reflection among visitors, who may relate personally to the stories that are told. One such experience was recorded by Briony Fleming who felt a connection to the We Are Movers exhibition in The Migration Museum in London. While walking through the exhibit she was reminded of her experience of migrating from Ireland to England and the sense of fear of the unknown that existed at the time. When such connections are formed it can aid in the understanding of other people’s experiences.
The Imperial War Museum collaborated with the British Red Cross to bring the Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibition to life. The display of objects that were distributed to refugees within camps around the world, including tinned food and hygiene products, along with plaques detailing their significance allowed for the stories of these items to be told to the visitors. However, as the objects were provided by the Red Cross, rather than by migrants or refugees themselves, they may not be an accurate representation of what was provided to each refugee within the camps and may only tell a partial story.
The Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibition can be seen as offering a new learning environment for visitors. The accompanying film exhibition offered an alternative learning experience for those who value immersive activities as engaging and thought provoking. By utilising a postcolonial lens within the museum environment, the voices of those who are often misrepresented or unheard can be projected more authentically to an audience, allowing their stories to be told; for museums to truly have a postcolonial perspective it is important that these voices are not censored or overlooked.
By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023
Elaine Chase and Amy North
In 2022 we launched a new optional module within the Education and International Development cluster of programmes on Migration, Education and Development, which was accompanied by the publication of a new open access edited volume Education, Migration and Development: Critical Perspectives in a Moving World (Bloomsbury). The aim of the module is to introduce students to a range of critical and interdisciplinary perspectives on the education-migration-development nexus.
Building on research within CEID on education, migration and (im)mobility, the module explores how migration, education and development processes intersect across a range of local, national, regional and global contexts and are shaped by wider dynamics of globalisation, uneven development, conflict and inequality. It looks at some of the multiple – and often intersecting – causes of migration and reasons that people migrate both internationally and internally (including, for example, forced migration and displacement, migration for educational or economic advancement, internal migration, seasonal labour migration, the movement of nomadic and pastoralist groups), and considers how these processes, often entailing movement of resources and ideas as well as people, interact with education and development in complex ways.
A key focus of the module is on understanding the implications of migration for education systems, practices, and the experiences and wellbeing of learners in both sending and receiving countries and communities. This entails paying attention both to how migrants engage with and experience processes of inclusion or exclusion within education, and also to experiences of immobility, and the impact that migration has for those who stay behind. This includes, for example, consideration of the impact of remittances and the role of the diaspora in supporting (or undermining) processes of education and development in their communities of origin; looking critically at debates around the so-called ‘brain-drain’ and the impact of outward teacher migration in low-income contexts; examining how migration may shape educational aspirations among young people in communities of high outward mobility; and exploring the implications of rural-urban migration for ‘left-behind’ children.
For the module assessment, students are asked to write a two-part assignment which includes (i)a 3500-word essay focusing on the interconnections between migration, education and international development in relation to a context of their choosing; and (ii) an accompanying public-facing blog piece of up to 1500 words, which engages with key ideas from the assignment topic, and presents them in a blog format for academic and non-academic audiences.
This series presents some of the best blog pieces written by students on the module 2021-2022. These all offer insightful and creative ways of engaging with the education-migration-development nexus, highlight some of the diverse spaces and media through which the nexus can be explored (including film, literature, museums, language, and the arts more broadly), and shed light on how the nexus can play out in a range of different global contexts.
By CEID Blogger, on 6 July 2023
By Shuhra Koofi, MA Education and International Development
This blog serves as a continuation of my previous article, where I shed light on the distressing university ban imposed by the Taliban on Afghan women. In this piece, I will delve deeper into the restrictive measures placed on women in Afghanistan and highlight the grave risks associated with recognizing the Taliban’s de-facto government. I start by examining the far-reaching implications of these oppressive policies on women’s rights and human rights as a whole. Then, I discuss a virtual exhibition that highlights the challenges faced by Afghan women in accessing education and their resilient spirit in the face of adversity. Urgent international attention and action are needed to support their ongoing struggle. To this end, my UCL MA classmates have created a virtual exhibition titled “Women’s Education and Resistance in Afghanistan”.
The Taliban’s Violation of Women’s Rights
Since their takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban rulers have implemented policies that have resulted in widespread violations of human rights, particularly against women and girls. One of the most extreme policies imposed by the Taliban was the pronouncement that girls would not be allowed to attend schools beyond secondary education. This policy, along with subsequent edicts, such as the women’s university ban in December 2022 and the prohibition of women from working in national and international organizations, including the United Nations, has significantly limited women’s rights and access to education.
The ban on Afghan women working for the UN has been widely condemned by human rights organizations and the United Nations itself. The United Nations Security Council has expressed its deep concern on this ban, stating that it will have a negative and severe impact on UN aid operations throughout the country, hindering the delivery of life-saving assistance and basic services to the most vulnerable populations.
Furthermore, the Taliban has enforced strict regulations to police women’s behaviour in public, requiring them to cover their faces and prohibiting them from traveling long distances alone. These regulations place the responsibility for the enforcement of these measures squarely on male family members, meaning that a male “guardian” can be fined and then imprisoned if a female member of his family goes outside of their homes without a male accompanying them. If the guilty male guardian is a Government employee, then they must be fired for the woman’s transgressions. Women working in the media have also been forced to cover their faces while reporting the news via TV screens, further limiting their freedom of expression.
The consequences of these oppressive policies have been severe and violent, with reports of widespread mistreatment of women. Women have been barred from attending amusement parks, public baths, gyms, and sports clubs, and are not allowed to work in NGO offices. Moreover, women have been completely excluded from public office and the judiciary since the Taliban’s takeover.
China’s Collaboration with the Taliban
In contrast to efforts to protect women’s rights, reports have emerged in recent months about China’s expanding collaboration with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Taliban commanders visited China in July 2021 and met with the Chinese Foreign Minister, who commended the Taliban for “restoring order” in Afghanistan and expressed optimism about their role in the country’s peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced on August 25, 2021, that China has pledged to continue its economic assistance with Afghanistan. The consequences of China’s collaboration with the Taliban raise concerns on several fronts.
- Legitimising the Taliban’s authority: China risks legitimising the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan by cooperating with the Taliban and offering strong economic support. This could lead to other countries and international organisations following suit, further isolating Afghan civil society and weakening efforts to advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the country.
- Providing the Taliban with the means to pursue its oppressive policies: The Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan was distinguished by grave violations of human rights, notably against women and girls. By providing economic assistance to the Taliban, China risks helping them to continue their policies and further deteriorate the country’s already poor humanitarian situation.
- Undermining regional stability: China’s relationship with the Taliban has the potential to undermine regional stability by escalating tensions with other neighbouring nations, particularly India and the United States, both of whom have expressed concerns about China’s expanding influence in the region.
- Encouraging terrorism: Concerns have been raised that China’s interaction with the Taliban may indirectly encourage terrorism, considering the Taliban’s history of offering safe havens to terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and the symbolic safety and political gravitas that China’s support lends them. This could have far-reaching consequences for regional and global security.
China’s example has been replicated in Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, which have all also recognized the Taliban rule, compounding these risks. The impacts on women’s rights will be long-lasting. The Taliban’s history of enforcing extreme interpretations of Islamic law, and twisting these to suppress women’s rights and freedoms, is well-known. By recognizing the Taliban’s de-facto government, China and the rest of these countries risk normalizing and legitimizing the oppressive policies of the Taliban, undermining efforts to advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Afghanistan.
Resistance and International Support
Amidst the challenges faced by Afghan women, there have been inspiring examples of resistance and international support. Women’s rights activists are urging the international community to hold the Taliban accountable for their actions and to support efforts to protect Afghan women’s rights and freedoms. Online platforms and educational initiatives have been established to provide education to Afghan girls who are barred from attending school. For instance, the BBC has launched an education initiative called “Dars” for Afghan children, especially girls, whose secondary education has been halted by the Taliban. This initiative provides educational content through a dedicated BBC News Afghanistan channel.
Additionally, a virtual exhibition titled “Women’s Education and Resistance in Afghanistan” has been created by UCL MA classmates, including myself. This exhibition aims at highlighting the importance of education for women in Afghanistan and the challenges they face. It explores the history of women’s education in the country, the impact of conflict, and the inspiring stories of women who have fought for their right to learn and succeed.
I encourage you to visit this exhibition on the topic of women’s education and resistance in Afghanistan and to consider the nature, value and significance of the messaging. Let’s come together to show our support for the empowerment of women and further raise awareness of the challenges they face.
The Taliban’s de-facto government in Afghanistan has systematically attacked women’s rights and human rights as a whole. Their oppressive policies have significantly limited women’s education and work opportunities, further restricting their freedom and independence. The collaboration between China and the Taliban raises concerns about the legitimization of the Taliban’s rule, the perpetuation of oppressive policies, and regional stability. However, amidst these challenges, there is growing resistance and international support for Afghan women, with initiatives aimed at providing education and raising awareness about their plight. It is essential for the international community to take urgent action to protect Afghan women’s rights and empower them to build a brighter future.
By CEID Blogger, on 29 June 2023
Conceptualising a path out of the peacebuilding narrative in conflict-affected contexts
By Reem Ben Giaber
I often question whether my research fits in with the work of other colleagues at the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID). I am from Libya and Germany – the former is often defined as a ‘conflict-affected’ country, and I am trying to explore teachers’ perceptions there of the roles that schools play in turbulent societies like Libya. Yet the questions I ask could be asked of any teachers in any country so, epistemically, I sometimes think that my research is more in the philosophy of education camp than in the education and international development camp. Or can it be both? Mindful of Gur-Ze’ev’s (2001) critique that much of peace education is driven by ‘good will’ more than ‘theoretical coherence or philosophical elaboration’ (p. 315), which leads to mainly unchallenged and unevolving practices, I propose a pragmatist philosophical approach (familiar in political science and political philosophy disciplines) as worth looking into, to see if the two camps can benefit each other. My first published article in the London Review of Education is a cautious conceptual re-examination of pragmatist philosophy in the fields of Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) and peacebuilding education. It is available [here].
The dominant analytical and programmatic frameworks used when writing about conflict-affected contexts such as Libya in Global Northern academia belong to the interdisciplinary field of PACS – an umbrella term that includes peace education (PE), critical peace education (CPE), peacebuilding education (PbE) and education and conflict to name a few. Within PACS, education is increasingly gaining attention as a tool for building peace and developing social justice and democracy. Yet, caught in the epistemological and methodological nets their work entails (neo-colonialism, blind universalism, organisational impact metrics, white saviourism, structural violence etc), many scholars in these fields are themselves calling for a more context-specific and ground-up approach to education for peace or social justice (Bajaj, 2019; Davies, 2017; Kester & Cremin, 2017; Zembylas & Bekerman, 2013). As such, this trajectory to involve local stakeholders in thinking about the links between school and their society, brings the project back to the philosophy of education discipline, drawing upon centuries of thought and scholarship. This is the integration, or even shift, I am proposing in my doctoral research because what is needed here is cultural criticism and transformation – a sensitive topic where one’s own positionality is significant.
My article takes a deeper look at the American philosopher John Dewey’s pragmatist approach to politics and education, and his conceptualisation of a ‘public,’ his understanding of enquiry and his views on teaching for peaceful and democratic living. When Dewey (1916) famously described democracy as not a political system, not a form of government, but as a way of living and communicating with others in our community that best allows for individual and social flourishing, he made it a cultural and pedagogical phenomenon. This is meaningful to the field of PACS because it situates the design, inquiry and action that can be taken at the local level. For PACS projects to be effective, PACS scholars and practitioners would share their expertise as facilitators and capacity builders – not deliverers, consultants or implementers.
Throughout my paper, I argue that a pragmatist philosophy is a worthwhile pedagogical project in a challenging and unsettled context such as Libya, as it is an internal and ground-up discourse, compared to the often externally-initiated and top-down discourses of peacebuilding. I speak as an ‘adjacent and connected critic’ (Koopman, 2009), because I am both a Libyan and a German researching a problem in Libya to which I hope to find potential proposals by engaging with discourses and practices in an academic institution in the Global North. As such, to describe Libya’s socio-political situation, I prefer to use words such as ‘unsettled,’ ‘changing,’ ‘turbulent’ or ‘evolving’ rather than ‘conflict-affected.’ One reason for this is to ensure a disentanglement from PACS education frameworks that activate organisational mechanisms from fundraising to pre-packaged programmes to metrics to impact evaluation reports. Another reason is for socio-linguistic considerations.
Speaking to Libyans, it is clear that ‘conflict-affected’ is too definitive, confining and suggestive of a state where common everyday occurrences like meeting friends in a café or taking your children to play in the park are excluded. Libyans would not describe their society as ‘in conflict’ or ‘conflict-affected’ because that would suggest to them that there is what Galtung would call direct violence (i.e. war) all the time. What Libyans might recognise is Galtung’s structural and cultural violence and that, again, takes us to culture critical projects which can, understandably, only be initiated by Libyans. Finally, from a pragmatist perspective, ‘conflict’ and ‘peace’ are locked into a dualistic tango of end-states. We either have one or the other and this denies that both are possible at the same time and that the only way to ensure any transitional amelioration in the situation is to keep working democratically (beyond programme end dates). There is no ideal (capital P Peace or capital D democracy) or destination to be reached; there is just continuous inquiry and work to be done with an ‘end-in-view’ (Dewey, 1916) that drives action.
By CEID Blogger, on 5 May 2023
4pm June 8th 2023, UCL IOE 20 Bedford Way Room 675
Professor Roy Carr-Hill sadly passed on 21st November 2022. Roy was an esteemed serving colleague in the Department of Education, Policy and Society (EPS) at UCL IoE.
The Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) invites family, colleagues, students and friends to celebrate Roy’s life and work, including his latest book, published posthumously.
Tribute to Roy
Roy was a true polymath and a prolific academic whose work spanned criminology, statistics, health, education and social services; including important work on education in developing countries and on the funding of the National Health Service in the UK. Roy was an avowed anarchist. As a statistician, he paid great attention to the uses and abuses of statistics by governments, especially the disguising of social problems as technical problems. He was a regular contributor to the heterodox journal Radical Statistics. Much of his work served to shed light on inequalities and inequities in access to and outcomes of education and health, focusing on the conditions of the least advantaged, including populations neglected by surveys.
Born in Widnes in 1943, Roy studied mathematics as an undergraduate in Cambridge and Penology for his DPhil at Oxford. He first taught at Sussex University, followed by a stint as a researcher for the OECD in Paris for their Social Indicators of Well-Being study. Roy’s clear-thinking and outspoken views were not valued equally by all his employers and in 1978 he decided to take-up employment in Mozambique, at the time a Marxist-Leninist state. He taught statistics and educational planning at the Universdade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo.
On returning to the UK in 1981 Roy served at the Medical Sociology Unit in Aberdeen, moving to the York Centre for Health Economics in 1984. His work in health includes studies in nutrition, HIV and AIDS and many in other areas.
Notable examples among these are his work on funding allocation for medical general practice in the UK and his trenchant criticism of the use quality-adjusted life-years (QALY) as a metric for health funding decisions in the UK. The ‘Carr-Hill formula’ (or global sum allocation formula) was introduced in 2004 and remains in use in 2022. It is used to weight GP practice funding according to factors driving workloads including list turnover, patient age, sex and additional needs linked to illness and mortality as well as adjusting for regional cost-factors including variations in staff pay and the impact of rural location.
Roy took up his post at UCL Institute of Education 1992. His work in education includes studies of adult literacy, education among nomadic groups, decentralisation and girls’ education, among many other topics. His work on ‘counting the uncounted’ has gained particular attention in recent years in view of renewed global efforts to attain ‘universal’ access to education and skills despite the poor quality of population data in many contexts. During the 1990s and 2000’s, Roy worked on several major African education reform programmes, serving as a consultant to, for example, governments in Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.
Roy was a most dedicated teacher on the MA programmes taught in the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), working with students from a range of different backgrounds, sometimes without detailed knowledge of statistics or planning. He was patient, and attentive, walking alongside students and helping them develop and enlarge their ideas. Roy was the statistician on the ESRC-funded NICK (Nutritional Improvement for children living in urban Chile and Kenya) project. At the time of his death, he was working on the ESRC funded AGEE (Accountability for Gender Equality in Education) project, engaging in participatory discussions to generate a cross-national composite indicator that could assess work done, and still to do on gender equality in education.
Roy’s work embodied his independence of thought, clarity of mind, commitment to shining a light on inequality and injustice and his indefatigable work ethic. He was a supportive, critical and humorous colleague friend and teacher.
Roy is survived by his wife Angeles, his four daughters, seven grandchildren, two brothers and their families.
Book synopsis (by Routledge)
This book examines the factors affecting the successful implementation of Education Sector Plans in developing countries. It provides a detailed comparison that draws on data from 27 countries to offer careful research conclusions and policy recommendations.
Offering a detailed comparison of the schooling situation (e.g. availability of potable water and toilets, provision for the disabled) as well as educational outcomes (both test scores and percentages out-of-school) from the 27 countries using empirical evidence, the book examines the resources that have been invested in different education sectors, investigating the development and success of each plan. The volume uses correlation analysis to compare factors including the availability of government funding, national characteristics, ministerial decisions, influences of country and donor stakeholders, as well as district- and school-level issues. Thorough comparative analysis of the data is then demonstrated, with two measures of achievements to identify which factors can be considered as the most important in order to reach realistic policy and research conclusions.
Timely and engaging, this book will be of great interest to researchers, scholars, and postgraduate students in the field of education and international development, comparative education, and international education more broadly.