PANEL 5 – Localizing research: why localizing research matters and examples from the field

PANEL 5 – LOCALIZING RESEARCH: Why localizing research matters and examples from the field

Chairperson: Jonathan Rhodes, The Tea Leaf Center

Coordinated by Jonathan Rhodes (Chiang Mai University Faculty of Social Science – Director and Co-Founder of the Tea Leaf Center)

Each contributor in this panel presents a case study that the Tea Leaf Center used to support, showing the importance of localizing research through capacity building. This backing, in turn, buttresses social movements in Myanmar’s informal education sector that directly respond to the country’s restrictive education system.

  • Panelist 1 – Three representatives of Network for Girls Myanmar (NFGM)

The Network for Girls in Myanmar brings together girls and young women from diverse communities across the country and equips girls with the skills, confidence and support system needed to navigate their changing landscape by increasing their access to new potential social, political and economic benefits while avoiding the growing number of pitfalls related to increased exposure. As girls and young women in the country struggle to achieve their potential, access to schooling has been disrupted by both the COVID-19 public health concerns and the political and economic instability after the military takeover of government institutions in 2021. Young women researchers from NFGM (Network for Girls Myanmar) wanted to better understand the realities for girls around education such as the current schooling rate, how the girls are impacted by the causes, what are the girls’ struggles, concerns and worries, whether they have any alternative learning opportunities, such as online study, and finally how they see their future. NFG Myanmar collected qualitative data in the form of peer interviews with 76 girls across 27 communities. NFGM analyzed the data, transcribing and coding it. The findings are followed by descriptions of the girls’ situations, their perspectives on education, their reasons for not schooling and the feelings it provokes, their concerns, worries, wishes and dreams about other learning opportunities and the future more broadly speaking. Given the politicization of schooling in Myanmar and the day-to-day tensions over the provision of services, conducting interviews using peer networks was critical to the process. Girls and young women were willing to speak with fellow young women and to share their experiences and reflections, which “other” researchers would probably have struggled to access. Overall, education has a different value depending on the level of education from generation to generation. However, the young generation started to comprehend that higher education could provide them with more opportunities and enable life path changes. As for many adolescent girls, there are not many alternatives to household chores if they have not been able to go to school, it is especially important for the young locale female researcher to pay attention to the reasons behind this situation.

  • Panelist 2 – Robert Hillsman* (The Logos Institute, Myanmar)

Localized research enables addressing issues of importance to the local community. The Logos Institute aims to foster, promote and propagate research as a transforming force for both individual and societal life, and evidence-based decision-making. It 1) conducted research on issues of importance to the community and organizations, 2) supported research fellowships, and 3) hosted research methodology training for youths and early-career researchers. The Logos Institute conducted research on issues such as public attitude towards corruption in Hakha, the relations between people and governance in Chin State, water governance, waste management, education, and budget process in Chin State. This presentation attempts to present highlights of some of the research findings, the research fellowship programs, and how the research findings are used/attempted to be used for advocacy purposes, as well as the challenges of conducting research as local researchers, and the importance of supporting local researchers.

Biography: Robert Hillsman is a researcher and civic educator based in Chin State, Myanmar. He earned his M.Phil. in Political Science from Jain University, India. His research interests include democracy, secularism, identity politics, gender equality, and local governance.

  • Panelist 3 – Chu Wai Wai Zaw* (Help Without Frontiers)

COVID-19 has exposed underlying vulnerabilities in marginalized migrant communities. With little savings and few backup plans, an increasing number of migrant families have been forced to have their children work to provide for their families. Moreover, with Migrant Learning Centers on the Thai-Myanmar border closed, migrant children have lost a critical child protection safety net and needed socioemotional support. Participatory Action Research was undertaken to identify and raise children’s voices in regard to difficulties and challenges concerning child protection issues experienced, heard, or seen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This presentation will describe gathered insights from parents, teachers, and especially children. Through qualitative responses, interviewed children reported that physical abuse was the most frequently occurring risk, followed by emotional abuse and child labor. Teachers reported that along with the school closure, children lost their emotional support channel, facing difficulties when expressing concerns or speaking up about challenges in their family life. It’s clear that migrant children are facing manifold challenges. This presentation will state both challenges and actionable recommendations to support comprehensive and community-based approaches needed to ensure the educational continuity and well-being of children and the maintenance of child protection mechanisms during this difficult time. It will also describe gathered insights from parents, teachers, and especially children. As a result of the research, our teams are integrating child protection messages and activities into community and school routines. This presentation will finally share about the child-safe spaces within migrant communities that have been developed using recommendations from this report. As conflict remains widespread throughout Myanmar, there will be a continued need for safe learning environments for migrant children in Thailand.

Biography: Emergency and protection coordinator Chu Wai Wai Zaw works for the Help Without Frontiers Foundation in Mae Sot, Thailand. She currently works as an emergency support worker and has six years of experience working with migrant education communities. To raise awareness about the importance of education, she has worked with migrant children, parents, teachers, and caregivers in Thailand’s Mae Sot region. She has experience advocating for the rights of children and women. In the areas of education and protection, she has collaborated with numerous NGOs and CBOs. She has also discovered why it is essential for migrant communities near the border to support children’s protection and education. In her perspective, the foundation for migrant learning and achievement is safety and education.

  • Panelist 4 – Luther (Spring University Myanmar) – The drivers of higher education snapshot

Spring University Myanmar(SUM) was established with the mission of providing educational access to millions of Myanmar youths amidst the political crisis. Over the past months, over 12,000 students have enrolled in SUM online courses. SUM has been advocating for the systemic strengthening of interim education providers and envisions being an open university platform for degree programs and vocational training. We will discuss the role of local researchers by showcasing findings and comparing and contrasting previous research activities; as well as the advantages, challenges, and difficulties faced by the various stakeholders. Entrepreneurial-minded youth, university teachers, students and civil society organization members are at the center of developing interim education programs and sustaining institutions.

  • Panelist 5 – Pamela* (The Tea Leaf Center) – LOCALIZING RESEARCH: Why localizing research matters: examples from the field

Local is often defined contextually and in conflicting ways – from concepts of local governance to local culture, from local histories to local peoples, or from local knowledge to local research. The local can be bounded by spheres of power, influence, impact, or jurisdiction, as well as by shared histories, cultures, and geographic or temporal framings (Boonratana, 2010; Briffault, 1999; Cox and Mair, 1991; T.S. Elliot, 2010). Therefore, we conceptualize localized research as research led by those most affected by the research – such as grassroots organizations, social movements, and other affected communities. Localized research requires active participation from grassroots organizations, practitioners, and activists and can play a crucial role in social movements. Such movements can use research to support their advocacy, learn about issues of importance to them, and influence policy. Localizing research has been a common theme in development strategies across the globe, visible in debates among academics and in the increasing role that citizen scientists play in research and policy (Karam and Afiouni, 2014; Mansuri and Rao, 2012). The goal of localizing research has been included in processes from Sustainable Development Goals directional planning to project creation and research implementation (Fisher and Fukuda-Parr, 2019; Fox and Macleod, 2021). However, field experience has shown that despite progressive moves towards localizing research, unequal power dynamics within key aspects of the research process continue to prevent fully-localized research. In many cases, localization in practice is limited to using local data collectors or community consultations with little impact on the overall design and analysis of the research. In a truly localized research process, local researchers must lead all aspects including, among others, research design, analysis of data, and ethical review. This panel highlights the importance of research capacity building for localized research, in the context of Burma and Burma-focused civil society, with a particular focus on why and how developing capacity beyond data gathering is important. In addition, the panel will discuss the importance of localized research to grassroots movements and organizations working on issues such as access to health, indigenous rights, and women’s empowerment. We argue that research at all levels benefits from building the capacity of local researchers with panel participants from various disciplinary backgrounds providing examples from the ground. By closely examining examples of localized research in diverse contexts, this panel provides support for and evidence for a new model of research collaboration and engagement that helps to justify research localization through research capacity building.

Biography: Pamela is a research and training assistant at the Tea Leaf Center. She enjoys working on community development projects, especially in the rural development sector. She believes education is key to bringing a better future for the people and reducing poverty and inequality. She was awarded a scholarship from Child’s Dream Foundation and finished her bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Development at Rangsit University International College in Bangkok