It was interesting that the panel echoed the conclusions of the morning plenary that development is essentially a political process; that we need to think big – no more ‘micro development’! – but also take time to embed ourselves in communities and gain an empathetic understanding of their concerns and strategies; and that researchers and practitioners should challenge themselves to be more reflective and reflexive in their actions.
Some big questions emerged in our discussions such as what are the moral meanings of work and education in different communities and how do these shape young people’s identities? What are the psychological impacts of marginalisation and how do young people manage these, whether as a Quranic scholar in Nigeria or ‘Nini’ in Mexico? Maintaining dignity emerged as just as important for young people as adults, possibly even more so given the fragility of their emerging identities.
We were also interested in how historical inequalities such as caste and ethnicity are combining with new ones such as social mobility from education. In this sense schooling can be a ‘contradictory resource’ as it transforms individual lives while perpetuating and justifying social inequalities. Even worse, these hierarchies can then be naturalised under a discourse of ‘merit’ and ‘natural intelligence’ - a point made by Froerer based on her research in rural India.
Finally, in a rapidly globalising world, how do young people know whether it is worth investing in education when they don’t know the type of opportunities they will be preparing for? This question is perhaps as relevant to UK school leavers as young people in developing countries.
There are also interesting issues to address concerning the quality of education – have resources shifted prematurely from promoting educational access to educational quality, bearing in mind the experience of groups such as pastoralists in Ethiopia and ethnic minorities in the Vietnamese highlands? And how do perceptions of quality affect the school choices of children and their households?
Finally, here are a few methodological questions, which engage with Chris Whitty’s provocative statement made in the morning plenary session on the morality of research without action, and more importantly, of action not informed by meticulous research:
· How do we research complex, multilevel processes, and keep our focus on structures as well as experiences?
· Where is the political economy analysis in the study of childhood (and why won’t we talk about inequalities among children as well as adults)?
· Once the context is understood and the needs identified, what more do development researchers have to offer (a tough question to end with from a representative from DFID)?
We welcome input and comments on any of the issues raised here.
Laura Camfield works on methodology with Young Lives, an international study of childhood poverty, and is based at DEV, University of East Anglia.
With thanks to Caroline Knowles.