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Education in the Time of COVID-19 #043 – Datzberger, et al.

By CEID Blogger, on 14 October 2020

Field Research during COVID-19

By Simone Datzberger, Jenny Parkes, Marie Lall, Kusha Anand, Mai Abu Moghli, Tejendra Pherali & Laila Kadiwal

Central to our research in the field of Education and International Development are international collaborations, global and local partnerships and knowledge exchange across borders and continents. COVID-19 has had not only profound impacts on education but also on how we continue with our research and data collection in diverse settings and contexts. Researchers are no longer able to meet face-to-face, are required to follow strict rules, and new ethics protocols and procedures have had to be developed to ensure safety for all. In short, data collection has been severely impacted by the pandemic. While some projects have been put on hold, or data collection postponed, others have managed to continue with their work and find new and creative solutions to adapt their projects and means of data collection to a new Covid-19 reality. Below we share our experiences.

Contexts of Violence in Adolescence Cohort Study (CoVAC)

Jenny Parkes and Simone Datzberger

Schools have been closed in Uganda since late March 2020

CoVAC is a research collaboration that is exploring how family, peer, school and community contexts affect young people’s experiences of violence in adolescence and early adulthood in Uganda. It is a mixed method, longitudinal (2017-2022) study led by LSHTM (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine), UCL Institute of Education, Raising Voices in Uganda and in close partnership with the Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI). Thanks to these strong partnerships and a well-established collaboration with Ugandan researchers, we were able to swiftly amend our research design and implement a new sub-study, led by researchers from CEID, to learn first-hand from young people how the lockdown has affected their lives. Data collection was made via mobile phone interviews from May-June 2020 with 18 girls and 16 boys (mainly aged 16-19 years) who have been participants in our longitudinal study. This study has involved annual fieldwork along with regular ‘staying-in-touch’ calls, to maintain contact and help reduce attrition. For this sub-study we expanded these calls to discuss with young people their experiences of Uganda’s lockdown measures, which were among the most stringent measures in Africa from late March 2020, and eased in late July 2020. Given the sensitivity of our research, we sought ethical clearance for our revised ethics protocol with some additional measures to address safety issues for data collection by phone. In this regard, it was of great value to work with our local researchers who had been previously trained in researching sensitive topics and who had built research relationships with each of our participants through previous rounds of fieldwork. Other potential risks were also mitigated by adapting CoVAC’s existing safety and referral plan to include provision of telephone counselling support. However, ensuring privacy was a particular challenge for this study during lockdown conditions, with busy households and with some young people needing to speak to researchers on phones owned by other family members. Researchers therefore sought the participants’ views on preferred times and locations to speak and asked the participants to alert them if they needed to interrupt the discussions, being careful to also listen out for any signs of distress or discomfort. The researchers also took extra care and caution around probing, asking open-ended questions and avoiding direct questions on personal experiences of violence so that the participants were able to maintain control over any personal disclosures. Their prior knowledge of participants’ lives enabled them to adapt the research guide in sensitive ways. For example, one researcher, aware of a father’s previously abusive behaviour, intentionally refrained from asking the young person about relationships in the home in order to avoid any potential risk to the participant. Findings of our study ‘Young people, inequality and violence during the COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda’ can be found here.

Teachers’ voices on best classroom practices in Delhi, India

Kusha Anand and Marie Lall

Screenshot of the Zoom Interview (of the teacher’s virtual background)

Due to the social-distancing procedures during the COVID-19 crisis in India, online methods of data collection were used to elicit teachers’ voices on best classroom practices in government schools in Delhi, India. We used Zoom to virtually replicate the face-to-face interviews with the 110 government schoolteachers between July and August 2020. Although challenging with regard to recruitment and retention in these testing times, we approached headteachers and teachers with humility and authenticity, which helped in rapport-building and trust. While moving data collection wholly online, we also made sure that validity and ethical issues were addressed as part of the research design. We also prepared a pre-mortem plan and rehearsed online data collection in order to create a positive, engaging and enriching research experience. We transcribed the interviews in English with the help of the AI Otter application as it helped capturing and recording significant moments from interviews so we could stay focused and engaged with the participant. Participants reported that online interviewing was a positive experience. Many teachers also wrote to us afterwards expressing that the online interview was a self-reflective process for them where they felt the freedom to express their views in their personal space. Findings of this study ‘What works and why in Indian government schools -Teachers’ voices in Delhi NCR’ can be found here.

Education Under COVID-19 Lockdown: Reflections from Teachers, Students & Parents

Mai Abu Moghli

The project, led by the Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS), assesses the combined impact of Covid-19 and school closures on access and quality of education on marginalised communities and refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The research also tackles issues related to both teachers’ and parents’ capacities, skills, and the extra load they have had to endure. In June we created an online survey on survey monkey and distributed via email, Facebook CLS page and other list serves. Although we had just over 1000 respondents from the three categories (students, teachers and parents- covering the three countries), the most marginalised were unfortunately not well represented due to the lack of internet connection and electricity cuts. The results of this study can be found here.

We are now aiming to gather qualitative data to gain a better understanding on the different distance-education modalities that are taking place in formal and informal schools, with a special focus on Lebanon. As we are unable to conduct the field research ourselves and because of school closures in the country, we are organising a two-day training event for 18 teachers to conduct the research themselves (this includes interviews with teachers, students and parents and to conduct classroom and online lessons observations). The training took place on 9 and 10 October and the research will start mid-October. The teachers will have access to a MOOC we created last year on community research methods (in both English and Arabic) for extra support.

Inclusive Education Practices in Nepal

Tejendra Pherali

Inclusive education can help mitigate social, political and economic inequalities. It is even more important in a post-war society where ethnic minorities, women and subordinate castes have historically been excluded from educational access and education, as distributed unequally, has consequentially played a role in fuelling conflict. This project examines inclusive education practices in post-war Nepal where the state has been federalised with the view of providing a greater autonomy to local governments in planning and delivering quality education for all. The research is co-led by UCL Institute of Education and Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Oslo Met University in collaboration with Tribhuvan University and SAIPL in Kathmandu. COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing educational challenges, mostly in the rural areas of Nepal by making it difficult for economically disadvantaged children to attend school or to access learning via distant modes. The pandemic has become an additional factor of exclusion for many children whose only opportunity to learn was by attending school.

The travel restrictions and school shutdowns have compelled us to rethink our methodological approach as we have been unable to conduct surveys in local municipalities and schools. Our local research team has also been affected by the disease, causing some delays in implementing our research. As a project team, we have now concluded that the level of risks is likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future and it might not be possible to visit schools for research activities. Hence, we are currently exploring the possibility of conducting surveys with municipality officials, teachers and headteachers using online tools. We have just completed sampling of municipalities and schools across the country; have worked on research instruments and are planning to collect qualitative data using online methods. As we had carried out some preliminary work before the pandemic hit, the research team is currently focusing on desk-based research activities such as policy reviews, instrument design and creation of project website.

COVID-19 Blame Game

Laila Kadiwal and Lotika Singha

Covid-19 Blame Game shows how a CEID project was adapted to find an innovative way to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in the face of a surge in xenophobia. We saw the pandemic not as a disruption to our work ‘in the face of travel bans, social distancing rules and strict hygiene’ but a tragic occasion to use new media to highlight the very issue we were working on, i.e. the manipulation of identity in crisis. Thus, we repurposed the Global Challenges grant ‘De-weaponising Identities and Education in Crisis’ to make a documentary exposing the scapegoating of vulnerable minorities during the pandemic. The film was made amid a lockdown compiling evidence online with a team of activists from scapegoated populations, researchers and curators, and archivists in multiple countries. Moving ahead, researchers from the scapegoated populations, the UCL’s Policy, Grand Challenges, and communication officers and researchers based at UCL and Wolverhampton have met online twice to develop a proposal for further research, impact, and reach.  More information on the movie can be found here.

Simone Datzberger, Jenny Parkes, Marie Lall, Kusha Anand, Mai Abu Moghli, Tejendra Pherali and Laila Kadiwal are members of the Centre for Education and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education.


Opinions expressed on the CEID Blog are only those of the author, not the Centre for Education and International Development or the UCL Institute of Education.

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