Friday, September 09, 2005

What am I doing here?

I have enjoyed receiving all the messages and comments – thank you! I’m writing during what’s left of my lunch hour at the office, although the internet is down at the moment. With luck I’ll be able to post this tonight from home.

A few friends have asked about my work, so I’ll take a stab at describing what our project is all about. My title is ‘Education Adviser’ and I direct a small team (numbers vary from four to twelve, depending what stage of the project we’re on) working to provide support to primary schools. The purpose of the project is to increase primary school enrolment by encouraging collaboration between the schools, families, and communities. More specifically, we work with twelve primary schools in this province (right now we’re in Butare province, but the provinces are about to be reorganized, so that could change!) and we support government policy on Parent Teacher Associations to help the schools develop their PTAs.

Work progresses slowly. I arrived in May 2004 and my first four staff members (the researchers) were hired the following month. We then spent several months doing background training in education issues and writing our log frame (‘logical framework’ – a planning tool used by many development projects). This phase was rather like leading an exclusive seminar group at university and was highly enjoyable! Once we had a good idea of how we intended to run the project, or at least the first phase, we hired eight research assistants. We then spent several more months training: human rights, gender, HIV/AIDS, participatory rural appraisal (PRA), and research skills for social analysis. The research skills was a course I took at the University of East Anglia in 2003, which I adapted for my team. Interspersed with the training we carried out stakeholder analysis meetings with community members in the four districts where we work – we work with three schools in each of the four districts. The districts will also undergo re-organisation, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects our work!

We finally began our first phase of research – collecting baseline data for the project in April this year. Apart from desk research, i.e. literature review and hunting for relevant materials on the internet, we carried out a survey using a questionnaire administered in person by members of the research team, individual interviews with a range of stakeholders (parents, teachers, local business owners, pupils, children who had dropped out of school or who had never attended school), and several focus group discussions. The research ended last month – August – and now team members are busy analysing a mountain of data.

Where does this lead us? We will soon have a very good idea about what is happening in practice in the schools, how well (or not) PTAs are functioning, why children are dropping out of school, parental attitudes towards education and towards involvement in their children’s education, and more! The information will then help us, together with community members, develop appropriate models for how PTAs should function in their communities. Then we get to work on assisting schools and communities to turn their PTAs into effective instruments to improve school management, increase enrolment, and increase retention rates (drop out rates are exceptionally high). This all sounds quite straightforward, but needs to be put in a context where the majority of parents are illiterate, schools do not have electricity or running water (let alone computers!), there are no telephones, and most head teachers don’t even have an office to themselves.

Time for me to get back to work. I’m posting a photograph of two of my research team – there are five of us sharing a small office. We have one laptop, mainly used by me, and then share three desktop computers in another room with the two other projects (community development and child survival).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicki,
Good to get a feel for what you're doing, sounds great, Jock would be proud! Keep up the good work. Quick enquiry: Sophie from our course last year has been working for a parliamentary group on Rwanda and is now a bit of Rwanda 'expert' in need of a job and prepared to to travel. Highly capable and commited. Do you know of any openings at that end? You know wnat the dev market is like here. She is quality and should be well used!
All the best,
Chris Rolls.