Education systems, aspiration and learning in remote rural settings

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Inst of Environment, Health & Societies

Abstract

Although there have been major advances in school enrolment in the past two decades, the outcomes of education are often poor, especially among girls, young people from indigenous groups and ethnic minorities, those of lower socio-economic status and in remote rural areas. The World Bank and other globally influential agencies have recently been promoting the view that this is partly due to the limited aspirations of such children and their parents. There is certainly some evidence that disadvantaged groups have lower aspirations, and consequently achieve less in school.

Yet paradoxically, there is also evidence that many youth from structurally disadvantaged groups have unattainably high aspirations, a situation that leads to disillusionment and large numbers of young people leaving school without the skills and knowledge to participate in rural livelihoods which they see as representing the failure of their aspirations.

There are two key problems with much of the current academic and policy discourse concerning education and aspiration. First, the conceptualisation of aspiration is very narrow. Interventions aimed at 'raising aspiration' assume it is one-dimensional, yet aspirations may be more or less concrete, more or less stable; they are emotionally imbued and value laden and may relate to very different types of imagined future. Little is understood of how aspirations function to produce change, individually or collectively.

Second, little is known of the processes through which school systems shape young people's aspirations, or of how young people's aspirations shape either their engagement with schooling or the learning they achieve. Aspiration is known to be produced in complex ways, in relation to broad-scale (even global) social and economic situations as well as family and community relationships. How these play out in schools requires further study.


AIM

To provide insight into how education systems can develop effective polices and interventions that work with young people's aspirations to enhance learning outcomes and address structural disadvantage in remote rural places

OBJECTIVES

1) To develop a robust understanding of the mechanisms that connect schooling, aspirations and learning outcomes

2) To develop methods suitable for capturing and understanding these mechanisms

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

1) What roles do 21st century education systems play in shaping young people's aspirations in remote rural areas?

2) How are the aspirations of young people living in remote rural areas produced in relation to both schooling and their wider social, economic and cultural contexts?

3) How do young people's aspirations shape their educational engagement and learning outcomes?


METHODS

The research will be undertaken by a team of experienced investigators alongside three postdoctoral researchers. Fieldwork will be conducted in two schools and their local communities in remote rural areas of India, Laos and Lesotho.

1) Desk research - analysis of academic literature, organisational reports and policy documents

2) School-based ethnographic research including participatory group activities with students, lesson observation, discourse analysis of textbooks, curricula and exams, interviews with teachers and students

3) Community-based ethnographic research including interviews / focus groups with parents, other family members, community leaders, young people in secondary education and young people no longer in education

4) Interviews with stakeholders in the policy community

5) Policy-focused dissemination and feedback workshops, cascading up from school students, via local communities, to national and international level stakeholders

6) Design of a questionnaire, and piloting with 200 young people aged 11-22 in 5 remote rural areas per country, to explore how the qualitative findings might be operationalised for quantitative research.

Planned Impact

WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THE RESEARCH?
-Government education ministries and regional/local government education departments
-Teacher training institutions
-International agencies, donors and NGOs engaged in funding or shaping education policies and interventions
-Youth advocacy and activist groups
-Academic researchers involved in the project, notably the local researchers, PDRAs and field assistants
-Academic researchers in education, development studies, youth studies, human geography and anthropology in India, Laos, Lesotho and internationally
-Ultimately, young people in remote rural communities in low income countries

HOW WILL THEY BENEFIT?
-Improved understanding of:
--Aspiration and its effects
--Effective qualitative and quantitative methods for researching aspiration
--The aspirations of young people living remote rural areas
--How different groups of young people negotiate and construct aspirations, and the role of schooling in this
--The consequences of young people's aspirations for their educational engagement and learning
--Ways in which education systems might work with the aspirations of young people to improve their learning
-Research capacity building

WHAT WILL BE DONE TO ENSURE THAT THEY HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO BENEFIT?
-Our local research partners include Plan Laos and Oxfam India, both of which are involved directly in developing education-focused interventions and have close links with education ministries and the broader policy community.

-A virtual international advisory group including representatives of international agencies and NGOs will be consulted regularly and kept informed.

-Stakeholder workshops will be held at the outset, mid-point and end of the fieldwork, during a feedback and dissemination stage and near the end of the project. Key participants will be senior personnel from education ministries and organisations promoting, funding and implementing education projects (see Pathways to Impact). Representatives of youth-focused organisations and local academics will also be invited. The PI has successfully used stakeholder groups with previous projects. The workshops will raise awareness of the research, secure commitment to it, ensure it is locally relevant and that the team is aware of the policy context and of optimal modes and moments to influence policy. The workshops will inform the design of the research and engagement plans, and contribute to data production (see Case for Support). The workshops will also engage with emerging findings and develop policy applications and recommendations. The resulting co-produced knowledge should be both relevant and acceptable to research users in India, Laos, Lesotho and beyond.

-The research and emerging findings will be publicised in formats tailored to diverse audiences in India, Laos, Lesotho and internationally, using inter alia a project website, briefing papers, internet-based resources such as the Southern African Regional Poverty Network and education forums, as well as conventional media such as newspapers, radio and social media.

-An international dissemination workshop in London will target NGOs, donors and agencies interested in education in remote rural areas.

-Our local research partners in India, Laos and Lesotho have been fully involved in developing the proposal and will gain experience in research design, participatory research and academic writing.

-Findings will be disseminated to academics from diverse disciplines through conference presentations and articles in international peer reviewed journals as well as journals published in India, Laos and Lesotho.

-The impact strategy will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. Participation in stakeholder workshops will be monitored and feedback sought to inform regular review and updating of our strategy. A year after the end of the project, the strategy will be evaluated through an open-ended stakeholder questionnaire.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Schooling is almost universally understood to be principally concerned with preparation for future life. In rural areas, in particular, this future life is expected to be an improvement on the present, and for many it is understood to lie elsewhere - in urban or foreign places. This orientation to social and spatial mobility is represented in various ways through the education systems of the three case study countries. It is depicted in the curriculum, referenced by teachers and embodied in, for instance, the linear structure through which children progress through school.

There are, nonetheless, some differences between the three contexts in the extent to which people believe that the future can be planned and worked toward (in Lesotho, children are told they should work hard to secure a good future; in India, children are told that if they work hard they might be able to access a better future; while in predominantly Buddhist Laos, the future is more often seen as a product of fortune). The future is also more prominent in, for instance, Lesotho and India, while children's present lives figure more prominently in Laos.

In all three settings, teachers, students and parents talk about schooling predominantly in relation to salaried jobs, in particular nurse, teacher, police officer or soldier. These four careers appear repeatedly in textbooks and elsewhere in school and are regularly reiterated by children when asked what they hope to do in the future. Many, however, demonstrate little conviction that these careers will materialise. Children shift inconsistently between the four jobs, speak of alternative futures when outside school and describe other aspects of their aspirations that are incompatible with their chosen career such as being self-employed and continuing to stay in the village. Neither are teachers heavily invested in their students becoming professionals: they recognise that structural constraints limit children's prospects, and while they may encourage children to 'dream' as a way to keep them focused on schooling, their own frequent absences and lack of preparation attest to a sense that however much they invest in their teaching, they are unlikely to enable rural children to attain the futures they talk about.

Many young people begin to express more attainable aspirations - usually common rural occupations such as farming or building - as they come to realise they will not be able to access the level of education required for a salaried job. The extent to which they revise their ambitions relates partly to their perceptions of their own academic abilities relative to their peers. Ultimately, very few rural youth find salaried employment and many become disillusioned about schooling. Where children are encouraged to believe their destiny depends on their own hard work, disillusionment may be accompanied by self-blame.

While the idea that one goes to school to ultimately become a nurse, teacher, soldier or police officer is commonly expressed, it is not the only narrative of education's role. Teachers, parents and students all speak of other ways in which education might contribute to a different future, including literacy and language skills, confidence and ability to navigate the outside world. Moreover, aspirations promoted and addressed through schooling relate not only to individual futures, but those of the family, community and nation. Some see education and knowledge as virtuous in their own right.

There is much that could be done in schools to assist young people to develop diverse and achievable aspirations. Schools could provide information about other career possibilities, for instance by inviting successful individuals from the community and beyond to talk about their livelihoods and how children might pursue these. Greater emphasis might be given to skills for rural livelihoods and entrepreneurship, and educators could employ pedagogies that encourage creativity and confidence building.

It is important to note that changes in the formal school curriculum, while important, are insufficient to encourage children to think more widely about possible futures or to see schooling as useful in relation to a broader range of careers. Lesotho has recently undertaken a major revision of its curriculum with attention to the development of skills and values, emphasis on creativity and entrepreneurship and instructions to teachers to employ children-centred pedagogies. However, teachers have not felt able to fully embrace these innovations. Thus, the research also has implications for teacher education.
Exploitation Route In the development of primary school curricula and textbooks and in teacher education, as well as other aspects of education policy and practice.
Sectors Education

URL http://www.education-aspiration.net
 
Description Research partners in case study countries 
Organisation National University of Lesotho
Country Lesotho, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are working with organisations in all three of our case study countries. These organisations are assisting with making links to government and other relevant actors in the education field, recruitment and employment of local staff and research expertise.
Collaborator Contribution We are working with organisations in all three of our case study countries. These organisations are assisting with making links to government and other relevant actors in the education field, recruitment and employment of local staff and research expertise.
Impact None yet. The project only began in September 2016
Start Year 2015
 
Description Research partners in case study countries 
Organisation Plan International
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are working with organisations in all three of our case study countries. These organisations are assisting with making links to government and other relevant actors in the education field, recruitment and employment of local staff and research expertise.
Collaborator Contribution We are working with organisations in all three of our case study countries. These organisations are assisting with making links to government and other relevant actors in the education field, recruitment and employment of local staff and research expertise.
Impact None yet. The project only began in September 2016
Start Year 2015
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Huijsmans R 'Reading Representations of Ethnicity, Place and 'everyday life' in Lao Primary School Textbooks', presentation at the International Symposium 'Theorising Childhood and Youth in the 21st Century: New insights, ongoing challenges', University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, 19-20 June 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Ansell N Education systems, aspiration and learning in remote rural settings, Brunel University London Research Institutes Day, 27th November 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dungey C Presentation for the book chapter. Learning to Wait: Schooling and the Instability of Adulthood for Young men in Uganda. Comparative presentation with new findings from Lesotho. American Anthropological association, Washington DC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Ansell N Education systems, aspiration and learning in remote rural settings, RGS-IBG Conference, London, 30th August-1st September 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Froerer P Aspiring for elsewhere: education and mobility in rural Chhattisgarh, central India, AAA, November 2017, Washington DC, Panel: The Anthropology of Hope in Education: Mapping a New Terrain
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Dissemination and feedback workshops with influential rural community members in Laos (x2) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Presentation of findings to influential members of rural study communities, followed by questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Dissemination and feedback workshops with school children in Laos (x3) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Presentation of findings to children, discussion and participatory activities to develop ideas and recommendations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Froerer P Becoming somebody: the value of educational achievement in rural Indi,a Educated People and Disciplined Bodies: Self-Governance(s) and Local RE-appropriations of Schooling, September 2017, University of St Andrews
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Policy workshops (x6) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meetings were held in Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh, India, Delhi; Maseru, capital of Lesotho; Nga, district capital of Nga Province, Laos and Vientiane, Laos. These were attended by key representatives of government (education ministries, foreign affairs, agriculture), donor agencies (e.g. World Bank, Plan International), UN agencies (e.g. UNICEF, UNESCO, WFP), NGOs (e.g Oxfam and more local bodies), teaching colleges, university education departments, non-formal education providers and school proprietors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentations to teachers in Laos (x2) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Presentation of preliminary research findings followed by questions and discussion of policy implications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seminar presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Ansell N Education and aspiration in rural Lesotho, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, 13th February 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Stakeholder meetings (x6) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We have met with stakeholders from government, training institutions and education-focused NGOs in all three case study countries. In Laos, there were meetings at three levels: national (hosted by our partner NGO, Plan International), provincial (hosted by the Provincial Education and Sports Secretariat) and District (hosted by the District Education and Sports Secretariat). These involved Plan International staff and government officers. In India various meetings took place with groups of stakeholders at district level, organised by our partner NGO Gram Mitra. In Lesotho, we hosted a meeting of our National Stakeholder Group (comprising national and district education officials, teacher training institutions and UNESCO). At these meetings, we introduced the research and sought feedback on our methods, on the local policy context and on expectations concerning the research findings and their potential relevance to policy and practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Village meetings in rural Lesotho (x2) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Village meetings (pitsos) were held in the two case study villages in Lesotho where we presented the research findings, sought the perspectives of community members, and discussed messages for policy makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Workshops for teachers (x4) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshops were held for groups of teachers, some of whom were involved in the original research. One was held at the premises of (and hosted by) our local NGO partner in India. Three were held at schools in Lesotho. We discussed the findings, sought the teachers perspectives and feedback, and considered messages for policy makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018