Dr Mani Ram Banjade
We recently took MA Sociology students of NIMS College and two other researchers to the rural areas of Sindhupalchowk with an objective of providing them hands-on training on social research skills.
Under Tribhuvan University’s MA sociology curriculum, students in each semester are required to study five courses, and one of these is social science research methodology. The University’s teaching strategy encourages Colleges to provide students with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills in conducting social research.
Accordingly, the research camp was designed for students to grasp social realities from the lens of theories they studied in the classroom.
Preparing for the field camp
Considering students’ interests and relevance to the course, we divided students into six groups looking at migration, caste, class, youths, impact of NGOs/INGOs and Western cultural influence. Two students worked in each group.
Before leaving for the research camp, the students chose a theory such as ‘Marxism’ for class relationships; Rostow’s ‘modernisation theory’ and ‘path dependency theory’ for understanding the impact of NGOs and INGOs; and Ghurye’s ‘segmented division of society’ for caste relationship. They were asked to identify specific concepts and variables to be explored empirically during the field work. They also developed checklists and questionnaire, and reviewed and selected research tools to be used.
They covered a range of activities during the research camp such as key informant interviews, household surveys, focus group discussions, and observation of community settings, agricultural practices and forest management activities. In addition, some of them worked on the agricultural field and cooked food in local fire stoves, interacting closely with the local people at their homes and farms. They also reflected on their activities and experience every day in the evening.
It was indeed a first of its kind activity to lead for me too, though I had the experience of conducting non-academic field-based trainings.
In order to further ignite sociological curiosity, I had booked a mini lecture slot by Dr Hemant Ojha (University of Canberra, Australia) who delivered his mini lecture from Sydney to students in the hills of Sindhupalchowk in Nepal. He outlined how a qualitative research can be conducted effectively in the field and also highlighted the need to think of the Himalayan dimension in sociological research.
In the entire field work, I was also joined in by Mr Kamal Bhandari, a researcher and veteran community development specialist in Nepal, with particular expertise in the fields of natural resource management, social mobilization and inclusive social planning. He offered guidance and motivation to students in field work. Ms Gyanu Tamang, another researcher working on community forestry, also accompanied us.
On reflection, it occurs to me that at least five important pedagogical insights are identifiable from this experience, which could be relevant across the Tribhuvan University and social sciences teaching in Nepal:
After returning from the research camp, the students presented their reflections connecting their chosen theory, methodology, and findings. Presenters invariably opined that the trip was unprecedented, and was going to be a noted, lifetime experience for them. In particular, they mentioned how theory can be applied in practical inquiry. Some of the students who could not join the trip also attended the seminars delivered by those who participated. The students who could not join felt that they missed the great opportunity.
This research camp has reinforced our commitment at NIMS College to adopt innovative pedagogical approaches for teaching and learning. The effectiveness of this research camp justifies our plans for organizing more frequent camps for students of business and social science streams.
Dr Banjade is the MD and Principal of NIMS College.