Voices of the Next Generation early career conference – Gaining motivation and insights for research on girls’ education in India

Written by Vandana Singh, PhD Researcher, Department of Education, University of Bath

Photo credit: DFID/Nick Cunard

I first heard about the Voices of the Next Generation conference on 14th June 2018 through an email from UKFIET. My PhD supervisor, Dr Rita Chawla-Duggan, encouraged me to send an abstract to be one of the speakers at the conference and I was accepted to present at the ‘World Café’, where early career professionals can present their research in a discussion-focused session. I’ve presented at many conferences and seminars but I still find that each acceptance assures me a little more that my research topic ‘How does the Indian Primary School Curriculum implicitly influence the capabilities of its female pupils?’ is worth talking about and sharing.

I was interested to attend the conference as there were so many different organisations and researchers presenting engaging projects, ideas, and research. These were focused on several themes including: teachers and quality teaching, understanding systems for educational reform, disabilities and inclusion, gender and equity, and early childhood development. All of these strongly supported the overall message of the conference – ‘we are here to make a change because we care about what is going on out there’.

The day started with a ‘marketplace’, where 12 international NGOs, private companies, charities and research institutions showcased their work around the world. It was a great platform to interact, network and to get to know more about the wide variety of work that is happening. I connected with people quickly because of my research interest or because the project looked interesting to me. I talked to students from different universities about their research and what brought them to this event. We all shared an enthusiasm for international development and wanted to raise awareness of issues we were passionate about through our research. I picked-up a few different research reports, which I’m looking forward to reading and perhaps using in my own research.

The next session was my personal favourite – the ‘Cock-up club’ Q&A. ‘Bigwigs’ of the industry shared their experiences and hits and misses in their careers. Questions were posed to the panel of six speakers and the directors and heads of international organisations answered the questions wonderfully, touching on the positives and downsides of working in development, which made the whole conversation meaningful and relatable.

For the next part of the day, I had a choice of five discussion sessions facilitated by senior experts on trends and challenges in key thematic areas. I attended, ‘Moving towards a gender transformative approach in education programming’ facilitated by Caroline Dean, education technical specialist at Plan UK. We discussed gender norms and power relations which are harmful to women and girls, and participants were encouraged to think beyond being gender-sensitive to being gender-transformative. This led on to a collaborative task where we had to read and analyse an education curriculum and gender education policy. We had to identify where the curriculum had a gender focus and where there were gaps. I found this activity particularly interesting because of my own research on gender issues in Indian schools and curriculum.

Moving on to the World Café, where I did a short presentation and led a discussion on my research. My research uses the capability approach as its theoretical framework, which drew a lot of attention among participants and raised meaningful discussion during the session. I was asked several questions, both about my research and wider gender issues in India, and this interaction and feedback was meaningful for me as an early career researcher

The lunch break gave me time to talk to other development professionals including some well-known faces from the sector. This was a fantastic opportunity to network and share ideas and insights with a diverse array of colleagues.

The following session, Voices of the Next Generation, included some promising and bright stories around Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Lydia Whitaker, Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, presented her work in Haryana, India and Punjab, Pakistan on how learning assessment data can be used to identify pupils who are not learning, what can be done to improve learning conditions. There was a very interesting discussion around the use and meaning of assessment and what it is trying to solve.

The conference ended with a very motivational session about the key skills needed to build your international career. Overall, the event was very well-organised with sessions covering a diverse selection of topics. The mix of age, gender and background of the speakers and the audience made it a very unique event. Another thing I would like to mention here is that the whole event was very inclusive for participants with different needs and special arrangements and resources made with individual needs in mind.

I highly recommend next year’s event for those who are looking at a career in international development, especially to early career researchers. The day turned out to be a mini-guide for me, providing me with a platform for informal discussion and time to focus on new educational trends and discover potential innovative solutions.

Twitter: @VanDan13

This blog is the second in our series from this conference. The first, by Grace Mooring, can be read here:

Voices of the Next Generation – Insights from the Early Career Conference 14 June 2018

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