A Reflection on the State of Education in Rural Cambodia Today

Joining us on the blog today is our guest contributor, Emily Maiorino. Emily has been volunteering at Oaktree for 12 months as a partnership manager. She has been working on the Girls’ Education Initiative (GEI) which is an education program targeting vulnerable and marginalised youth in rural Cambodia. Her role has been providing program support to their implementing partner organisation in Cambodia. She is also currently studying a Master’s of International Development at RMIT, due to finish in June 2018. Today, she draws from her own personal experience to share some insightful reflections on the state of education in rural Cambodia.

Basic education is a fundamental human right but, although the Cambodian Constitution guarantees education to every Cambodian child, a considerable gap remains between rhetoric and reality. Significant barriers to accessing quality education still exist across the country, particularly for rural youth, girls and ethnic minority groups. As part of my research working on a girls education project over the past year, I have gained insight into the current problems existing within the Cambodian education system.

1. Cambodian classroom

The issues facing rural youth

Despite the fact that 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural environments, schools in rural districts face inadequate facilities, lack of resources, poor governance and higher dropout rates than their urban counterparts. Indigenous ethnic groups and diverse Austroasiatic dialects also pose challenges and barriers to rural education.

The proportion of the country estimated to be under 30 varies from more conservative estimates of 59% to as high as 65.3%. The rising number of young Cambodians entering the workforce is creating a pattern of national and international employment migration. Studies have named Kampong Cham as the second major sending area for youths searching for employment. 60% are female.

Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces are the most densely populated region of the country, even surpassing the capital, Phnom Penh. The Mekong River divides the Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces, creating a rich floodplain for agricultural practices. The region continues to be well known for rubber, cassava and tobacco plantations, which engage a significant amount of child and youth labour. Factories owned by foreign investors are penetrating the region and employing thousands of young women and men. Through my own qualitative data collection, I identified that a direct correlation exists between the emergence of new factories within close proximity to rural communities, and increased secondary school dropout rates.

The imminent need for stable financial security drives youth -particularly women and girls- out of education and into employment. Gender roles are firmly structured and historically, women have seldom been associated with success in education or business. Hierarchical and patronage roles are also embedded deeply within Cambodian culture which limits the female role models available for inspiration. Young women and girls often leave formal education to work in the domestic sphere or seek employment to generate income for their family. The critical period for girls is lower secondary school (grades 7-9) when the majority of dropouts occur. In many cases, the increased employment opportunities and paychecks that stem from further education do not appear to be a payoff that is justified by the associated costs of school.

2. Cambodia Krochmar and Chumnik Student Interaction

Rebuilding education

Cambodia is in the process of rebuilding its education system after its collapse under the Khmer Rouge. Over the 15 years, education campaigns and policy reforms have promoted the value and importance of education as a national priority (see the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) website regarding education for policies, strategies, legislations, and statistics). Through the commitment of MoEYS and interventions from international agencies, an attitudinal shift is occurring at a national scale.

Presently, around 97% of children are enrolled in primary school, with gender parity achieved for boys and girls. This initial step focussed largely on the expansion of access to education and increasing enrollment rates. Lack of quality education, however, remains the crucial issue and has resulted in significant numbers of children repeating grades or failing to complete even primary education. Low literacy and numeracy levels in secondary school are some of the consequences of low-quality education. The current agenda remains strongly focussed on quality education, teacher training, capacity building, gender and overall equality.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and accompanying international pressures drove a sense of urgency in regards to education reform. Cambodia joined UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) program in 2003, which kickstarted the next decade of strategic planning. Partnerships between MOEYS and international agencies that formed during this time have worked to combat systemic issues and cultural norms. A long list of programs, policies, research initiatives, action plans, monitoring reports, and goals have been the product of the last 15 years of work in education.

3. Cambodian students writing

Where do we go from here?

The disparities that still exist in the Cambodian education system are affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of its society. The barriers and challenges are particularly ubiquitous for rural youth and girls. Nonetheless, Cambodia’s education system is in a racing upwards trajectory. Through international NGOs, foreign aid, partnerships between states and institutions and rising local support, quality education is high on the national agenda.

“To build a quality higher education system that develops human resource with excellent knowledge, skills and moral values in order to work and live within the era of globalization and knowledge-based society” – MOEYS’ 2030 vision for higher education

MOEYS’ vision reflects the national desire for Cambodia to match ASEAN’s economic growth and prosperity. There’s still a long way to go to in terms of achieving equitable access to quality education for all, but I do think strides are being taken in the right direction. The education system will be in the spotlight over the coming decades and my hope is that it remains a national priority. While a future independence from international aid would be ideal, at present, multilateral efforts are displaying encouraging results for young Cambodians aiming to fulfill their right to education.

 

 

References

ASEAN. (2013). State of Education Report.

UNESCO. (2015). Education for All National Review.

UNICEF. (2015). Annual Report Cambodia.

 

 

MIDPA listed as a Top 50 Gender Equality Blog

MIDPA’s past and present Editors, Clemency Amanda Feli and Kathy, have an exciting announcement to share with our community.

A year ago we started the MIDPA Blog with the vision of providing a non-bias space where students and like-minded individuals in the development and humanitarian sectors could grow ideas, express frustrations and share their light-bulb moments outside of the academic environment. During this time we have also heard from you, our audience of peers, contributors and readers alike. It is your ongoing input that continues to inspire us.

As the past and present editors of this blog, we can confirm that volunteering time for something you so passionately believe in is not always a perfect experience. There are times when you can briefly lose sight of the bigger picture as the smaller day-to-day details consume your passion. During these times, we become preoccupied by concerns over our readership and reach, our diversity of voice, our relevance, continuing our momentum. But then there are the moments that make it all worth it. When we can’t quite believe that our hard work, the commitment of our team and our collective dedication and drive has received recognition. It makes everything golden.

And today is golden! It is our absolute honour and pleasure to announce that midpa.org have been listed as one of the Top 50 Gender Equality Blogs on the planet! Considering the giants of gender equality also listed we are beside ourselves: UN Women Watch, Malala Fund, The New York Post, HeForShe, The Fawcett Society, One Woman Project to name a few.

award

It’s perfect timing, considering it was Diversity & Inclusion Week and now Women’s Week at Monash University. At MIDPA, we have continually pushed for diverse voices to be heard, invited students to discuss their experiences of gender in/equality from across the world and called our audience to join the debates.

And in our search for diverse voices, MIDPA doesn’t just focus on gender. We cover a broad spectrum of topics from international development, sustainability, environment to academic development, professional development and so much more. We will continue to strive in this direction, making sure that all your voices are heard loud and clear.

Today we are awake to the power of individuals and that social activism is relevant and important. It is because of you, our amazing community of dedicated contributors, readers and sharers, that we have received this honour and recognition. We look forward to continuing this journey with articles that persistently make us think, discuss, question, and debate.

As always, we are excited to hear from you! Continue the discussion with your comments and get in touch with us at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com if you’d like to contribute as a writer!

   

Saving States: Why the Future of Small Island Countries Demands Global Sustainability

Joining us today is the blog’s newest Content Editor, Anthony Huber. A fellow MIDP student, Anthony writes a powerful call to arms for a cause that is very close to his heart: ensuring a safe future for Small Island Countries.

In September 2014 Apia, the capital of Samoa, hosted the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The four day conference shone a spotlight on countries in which sustainable development is of particular importance in strategies of coping with their unique vulnerabilities. The conference produced the Samoa Pathway, which largely reaffirmed previous commitments and called for increased partnerships and collaboration between people, governments, civil society, and the private sector. A wide and diverse body of actors (including UNICEF, the IMF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and representatives of ninety countries), released similarly strongly-worded statements that highlighted an awareness of the severity of the environmental challenges SIDS faced, and committed to assisting them in managing these issues. It is noticeable that the same purposeful, wholehearted rhetoric that has been present in official statements and declarations on combating climate change for decades is also being employed here. The world is sympathetic, but sympathy won’t stop the sea from swallowing up people’s villages. It hasn’t so far.

sids

For a number of low-lying island countries, the situation could not be more urgent. Their state, society, and the continuation of their culture as it exists today, are all under exceptionally grave threat. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has identified the following states as being distinctly at risk of ‘permanent inundation’: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and the islands of Antigua and Nevis, of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively. The Solomon Islands have already lost five islands to the sea. Some Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee to higher-ground islands. According to the UN Department of Public Information (1999), an 80-cm-rise in sea levels would leave two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands immersed. States in the Global North will not suffer from these kinds of catastrophic ramifications of climate change for many years yet. As a result, the substantial changes required in order to save these states and improve global sustainability are not yet being effectively undertaken. The international community needs to work harder to reduce their contributions to rising sea levels. The people of SIDS are desperate, and their leaders have made headlines with public pleas to the international community to step up and take responsibility for solving problems that they created.

In the absence of sufficient political capital, even united as intergovernmental organisations such as the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change and the Alliance of Small Island States, they have been forced to resort to appealing to people’s notions of justice. This has proven predictably unsuccessful. But it is indeed intolerably- unfair that the people causing the least negative impacts on the planet are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of the unsustainable habits of others.

So far, the international response has been a disconcerting litmus test of their will to act to prevent such disastrous, foreseeable, and preventable outcomes from taking place. We must face the fact that there are some development issues that, tragically, will not be realistically resolved before their worst impacts materialise. Then-president of Kiribati Anote Tong declared in 2015 before the UN General Assembly that, for the low-lying atoll islands, it was ‘already too late’. He lamented that “there’s a limit to how many times you can tell a story people are not listening to”. In Australia later that year he also issued a demand to Australians to cease their avoidance of the issue: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don’t care’ and then go to church next Sunday.“. Kiribati’s government have bought a 5,500 acre package of land in Fiji for relocation.

The future is still undetermined and the SIDS that face existential threats from rising sea levels have the ability and the ingenuity to come up with (and carry out) their own solutions to protect their islands. Many would disagree with Anote Tong’s pessimistic view. There are no boundaries to the ingenuity of humankind. Furthermore, there are many actions that can be taken by a number of different stakeholders to significantly affect the outcome; the disappearance of these islands is not inevitable.

States like China, Singapore, and the Netherlands have long engaged in successful land reclamation efforts, but the momentous scale of the task required to protect SIDS from rising sea levels would be extremely cost-intensive, well beyond the financial capabilities of most SIDS. It appears more likely that the international community will share the burden of incorporating the thousands of climate refugees, than the likelihood of every stakeholder banding together to build the infrastructural safeguards and land reclamation practices necessary to conserve the islands. Only time will tell. If the former comes to pass, it will likely signal a substantial blow to the faith that impoverished people affected by climate change have in the probability that the world will come together to prevent climate change-related calamities before they eventuate. The world is excellent at uniting for disaster relief, far less so for preventing disaster in the first place. This needs to change immediately. If the pleas of islanders desperate to prevent their homes and societies from going under are not enough to compel us to adapt our sustainable lifestyles, what will be? Make no mistake: continued procrastination will equal catastrophe.

References:
United Nations Department of Public Information (1999). Press Kit on Small Islands: Issues and Actions. New York, NY: UN.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Life in the Field: A Snapshot

Have you ever wondered what life as a researcher in the field would be like? Are you considering doing some field work but are not sure if it is the right fit for you? MIDPA’s Managing Editor, Feli Bran, shares insights from her first experience in the field and reflects on the reasons why having some field experience is an invaluable asset for your future career.

As a part of my degree, I went on a three-week intensive course in Malaysia called Field Methods in Anthropology and International Development. It was the first opportunity I had to finally put into practice what we had been learning throughout the course. What I liked the most about this unit is that it gave you the freedom to design, implement, and present the findings of your own research project. Granted, there were some limitations, as we were not in charge of the recruitment process and there were also some time constraints. Overall, however, it was a useful snapshot of what life in the field would be like.

Most importantly, it really tested the cross-cultural communication skills of our team. It is vital to remember that solo projects in development are virtually non-existent. Thus, learning how to work as a team despite different backgrounds, opinions, and areas of expertise is critical. I am happy to report that this was the best group work experience I have ever had. It was clear everyone was excited and dedicated to the cause, and we made it through despite some unforeseeable hiccups along the way.

team

It all started with an intensive, week-long block of field methods, for which I was particularly thankful, as it served as a quick reminder of everything I had learned in Research Methods the previous year. We also engaged in some team-building activities to keep the ideas flowing and were introduced to the hearts of our project: our interpreters. Monash has a partnership with the South East Asia Community Observatory (SEACO), which is why the actual field work was carried out in Segamat and surrounding areas.

“Why Segamat?” is a question we all asked at some point or another. It is not as well-known a place as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, or Melaka. However, a particularity of Segamat is that it has an even distribution of ethnicities that mirrors Malaysia itself: about 50% Malay, 23% Chinese, and 7% Indian. Thus, the location was ideal to carry out research, as all ethnic groups would be represented in the findings.

Mind map and free listing

For our particular project, we were based in rural Segamat, as we were working with farmers to try and understand how they perceived their relationship with the environment. I am sure most of you are familiar with the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. We based our project on its asset pentagon and narrowed it down to natural capital. We wanted to understand how the environment impacted on the livelihoods of these farmers, but also how their livelihoods impacted the environment.

Recently, there have been some controversies surrounding the sustainability of oil palm plantations. As a matter of fact, there have been some disputes between the European Union and Malaysia and Indonesia regarding these issues. That was something that really surprised us. We were not expecting the environment to be a political issue, but the more we investigated, the more we realised it was.

in the field

In Malaysia, rural poverty was addressed by forming FELDA villages. FELDA stands for Federal Land Development Authority, which is a centralised government agency that granted plots of lands to poor Malays in order to incentivise the production of rubber and, later on, palm oil. Because it is essentially state-run, we sometimes encountered certain resistance from FELDA managers, as they were suspicious of our aims and were concerned we intended to criticise their operations. This is why excellent team work was so vitally important. Without the language abilities, relationships, and cultural awareness of the SEACO team, we probably would not have been able to navigate these murky waters as effectively. We always discussed in class how context is crucial to understanding where and how a project should be carried out but it is extremely different once you are in the field. You have to question absolutely everything you know.

I used to think I was a worldly, open-minded individual, but this experience made me realise how many assumptions I made on a daily basis. As a somewhat hot-headed person, it was important for me to keep my emotions in check, not be judgmental or openly condemn people for opinions or actions I considered wrong. Sometimes I did not agree with what was being said or done but, as an impartial researcher, I learnt the importance of simply witnessing and reporting on these things professionally, even if I did not condone them personally. I think that is an important distinction we have to make as researchers and development practitioners, especially when working with marginalised communities that live by societal norms that are different to our own.

Square Peg, Round Hole: A Cursory Autopsy of Victoria’s Wildlife and Nature Tourism Strategy

In March, the Monash Sustainable Tourism Association (MSTA) organized a tour to the You Yangs Regional Park with the Koala Clancy Foundation and Echidna Walkabout Tours for a glimpse into conservation-oriented tourism. The aim was to unify participants under a common goal towards proactive participation and more sustainable tourism practice. The conservation day involved walking, weeding, and watching Clancy, the world’s most famous koala and the Foundation’s poster boy.
What set out be a narrative of the day, composed to demonstrate the links between conservation, tourism, and regional development, turned into an accidental journey down a rabbit hole. The examination precipitated four pivotal questions regarding Victoria’s approach to wildlife and nature tourism.

koala2

Why wildlife tourism?

Victoria’s biodiversity includes over 200 regionally and nationally endangered species whose habitats are at risk from habitat degradation, bush fires, and weed invasion. Despite the watertight argument for the instrumental and intrinsic values of wildlife and its protection, the reality is that wildlife is going to have to pay for its own survival.

Correctly managed wildlife tourism is one relatively harmless way of tackling this problem. Wildlife tourism presents a strong case for conservation, as it offers people a chance to consume a product and understand its value. It provides a long-term source of employment and income, and bridges the growing gap between people and planet.

Tourism has the capacity to cover a share of the investment required to sustain local wildlife and their habitats. The Foundation testifies to tourism’s potential to harness the good intentions of tourists and volunteers, who are more willing to invest in consuming such a product. They believe it is easier to stimulate tourist interests with a novel experience, which is augmented by knowledge of the scope of their contribution.

“Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.”

tour

Why does Victoria not capitalise on its assets?

Native Australian wildlife is unlike any other and attracts visitors from around the globe. However, Tourism Victoria primarily promotes wildlife tourism in controlled environments like Werribee Open Range Zoo and Melbourne Zoo. We believe that if the state supported alternative wildlife tourism as well, it would encourage innovation and product diversification which create more jobs for the industry. In the contest between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria for tourism numbers and revenue, the You Yangs appears to fall through the cracks. It is significantly underfunded and underpromoted by the industry and the private sector.

Why does Victoria insist on developing artificial tourism products instead of taking advantage of its existing assets? Is the priority to import animals to rehabilitate endangered wildlife in Africa, when its own wildlife population is being overwhelmed by deforestation and mining? Let’s face it, baiting an international audience with international wildlife is just silly. Nobody travels to Australia to see lions.

What is stopping community action?

Community action, or the lack thereof, was a major point of our discussions with Janine and Kirby, as one of the biggest challenges faced by conservationists outside the conventional tourism sector. Perhaps, the immediate goal should be to engage Australians with their own wildlife to encourage conservation.

Community inaction can be partially attributed to the classic “local” reluctance to pay to consume one’s own neighbourhood as a tourist. The other, said Kirby, is that people are aware and in support of the local koala population, but are content with making a small, one-off donation instead of a long-term commitment to the cause.

koala

Where does wildlife fit in development?

Many developing countries see nature tourism as a path towards to poverty alleviation and social inclusion. Even in developed economies, the natural environment is at odds with human activity. The loss of habitat and the consequent extinction of species would impact the ecotourism industry and the jobs it creates, and tourism is a far more preferable alternative to employment in mining and timber. Tourism integrates various industries and enterprises like farming, textiles, and handicrafts.

Along with Clancy and his friends, the park is close to a sacred aboriginal site, and the Foundation works closely with the region’s indigenous community. It paves the way for social inclusion and cohesion within the communities that live in the region, simultaneously contributing to the protection of not just its natural assets, but its cultural heritage too. It converts the resultant product to one greater than the sum of its parts.

Divya Sahasrabuddhe
Alumni, Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management
Alessandro Frau
Student, Masters of International Sustainable Tourism Management

Masters in International (Un)Development Practice

Joining us on the blog today is fellow MIDP student, Felipe Urrego Gonzalez. Felipe reflects on what it means to ‘develop’ and encourages us to debate whether development is always the answer.

When I think about development I automatically think about vulnerable communities.  I think about how to reduce the gap between them and us.  I think about how we can help them to improve their standard of living, their level of democracy, their wealth, their happiness, and many other aspects that most of us enjoy where we are right now.

Last semester I took Research Methods, and one big consideration was to be ethical about your research. You always have to consider how your research may impact yourself and the communities. Have we considered how development may affect ourselves or communities? Do we have any method or guide to measure how our development projects may impact communities? I know in Project Planning and Management for Development we talked about monitoring and evaluation and its importance; but are there any methods to tell us when not to develop, when not to bring our outside ideas to a community that already has an endogenous model of change that is working for them?

All these questions came after a discussion with a friend. If we develop those that we consider are in need, it already sets a power imbalance between us and them. What about helping powerful companies become ‘less’ developed? Should we, perhaps, focus our efforts on ensuring that the so-called developed world becomes more sustainable or more equal to the rest of the world? That does not mean becoming more violent, or less democratic, or poor. What I am trying to say is that instead of helping communities to understand financial schemes, we should run programs to help international companies to understand indigenous processes. We should contribute to ‘un-developing’ those that are ‘too’ developed.

Think about the investment broker working eight hours a day, making money to have enough to enjoy a nice retirement in a sustainable village in the middle of a forest without any worries related to modern life. Now think about the villager that lives in a sustainable way in the middle of a forest without the worries of modern life. Many agencies try to teach this villager how to use his micro-loan to get more money so he can live in a better place and send his children to study to become brokers and make more money and … (Can you see the irony here?)

I am very glad that during my experience at Monash University undertaking this Master I have become more critical of the role we will play as development practitioners, and the necessity of thinking about the impact our decisions will have in the future.

Let us help to reduce the gap among the world citizens. My idea is to build bottom-up approaches and use them in top-down organisations and processes.

What is your idea?

Felipe Urrego Gonzalez
MIDP Student

ufel2@student.monash.edu

Advice for Aspiring PhD Candidates from an Admissions Expert

Joining us on the blog today with five key recommendations for aspiring PhD candidates is Joe de Pasquale. Joe has worked in Higher Education for at least twenty years at both Monash and Melbourne Universities. At Melbourne he was responsible for overseeing the scholarship scoring process for an academic department of the Faculty of Education. Whilst at Monash, he was the PhD Admissions Manager in Arts responsible for assisting potential research students with their applications for admission. 

PhD THE website

1. Make sure you convert your degree to the appropriate scale:

This is a mistake most international candidates make, but it also applies to Australians looking to apply for a PhD overseas. Something you might not know is that PhD candidates are assessed very differently from coursework programs. For PhDs, we look for the equivalent in grading scale (for example, an 80 in Australia would be a High Distinction, but in the UK it would be a 1st class). Make sure your grades are adjusted to the scale in your country of choice. Universities usually provide conversion tables to guide you, but if unsure, make sure you convey to the admissions officer how your grades rate in your university’s grading scale. The minimum admission standard at Australian universities for a PhD is H2A or Distinction average. (note the minimum for a university scholarship is H1 or first class honours or HD). The numerical figure varies from university to university but the key is to understand the grading level. A grade in the first division (is the minimum for a scholarship) whilst the grade in the second division is the minimum admission requirement.

2. Do not bulk email your proposal to people within the same faculty:

I cannot stress this enough. It is the easiest way to get your proposal discounted. I know that sometimes universities do not make it easy for you to find a supervisor, but bulk emails are never a good strategy. First of all, it shows that you do not have a personalised, targeted approach which is something academics really value. Most importantly, you are just wasting everyone’s time and that is something that academics truly dislike. Tailor to your email to the academic which has the most similar research interests. Don’t necessarily just target the Head of Department or Professor. Quite often, the most likely supervisor will be a more junior academic at a senior lecturer level or associate professor.

3. Make sure you present an academic CV:

Surprisingly, this is a mistake most applicants tend to make. An academic CV is supposed to showcase your research capabilities and technical expertise. Most people will just mention doing a Masters, but they neglect to mention whether they have done a thesis or research project. It is always a good idea to add the title of your thesis as well as your grade, as this will demonstrate that you have the necessary skills and relevant experience to carry out a PhD. Also know the word count of the thesis or pages (we normally say 300 words per page times by the number of pages equals word count.)

4. Read the admissions criteria carefully:

The same way you would address key criteria in a job application, it is really important to hone in on the admissions criteria. All the information is there for a reason. Learn to read between the lines in order to highlight the relevant experience and skills they might be looking for. Use their language; that shows your commitment and that you really understand your targeted audience. This is particularly relevant if you are also applying for a scholarship.

Most universities expect you have to complete a substantial thesis at an honours level or at a master level. The length of the thesis will vary from institution, however, students who have only completed a project subject will not generally be assessed as being eligible for admission

5. Find referees that can be your champions:

Most of the references we get are fairly generic, simply stating that X was in their class, performed well, got X as a result. This tells us nothing about you as a person. It is important that your referees know you well and can truly emphasise what your skills and strengths are and back this up with concrete evidence. Make sure you have a chat with them beforehand so that they are also aware of what your goals and objectives are so they can highlight relevant evidence of your technical knowledge in that area.

As a personal recommendation, I would suggest you pay a visit to the admissions department before applying. Believe it or not, they want you to do well and they are there to help with any questions you may have. If possible, I would suggest arranging a meeting in person, as emails can sometimes get lost in the noise or not really clarify your doubts. Again, this is something that I have always personally encouraged, but it might vary according to faculties. However, going for a friendly chat to discuss admissions criteria has been an invaluable experience for several of the candidates that have crossed my path.

Joe De Pasquale
Senior Manager, Global Engagement

Sustainable Development: An Extension of my Values

Joining us on the blog today is Nuvodita Singh, alumni of the Masters of Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University in New Delhi. As a member of the Global Master of Development Practice (MDP) Network, Nuvodita shares with us what drove her to pursue a master degree in Development and how it led her to work as a Research Officer at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal.

As a kid who grew up surrounded by mountains and hills, I have always harboured a deep seated love and reverence for the natural environment. My love for animals meant that I dreamt of becoming a vet, or a wildlife photographer, or running a shelter for abandoned animals. I liked arts and crafts, so I would often reuse (or up-cycle as it is now known) many things lying around my house.

Picture 2

However, when the time came to choose a subject for my undergraduate studies, I got coaxed into picking Economics. Fresh out of high school, I barely had a clue of what to expect after graduation. Unsurprisingly, I followed the conventional route and joined a financial services firm. One year into the job and I knew that where I really wanted to be was somewhere else; somewhere that allowed me to follow my values and passions.

I must mention that Economics was not a complete waste. It enabled me to understand the functioning of the current development model, how it has evolved, and how valuable statistics can be calculated to analyze its trajectory and potential future. Most importantly, it enabled me to question. My choice of projects and assignment topics through the course focused on why the environmental impact of ‘development’ needed to be regarded as more than just collateral damage. I wondered why the modern world could not be more cognizant of the very resources on which it depended, and why it could not be more ‘grateful’. I did realize, however, that merely advocating for such values and virtues was not going to change anything. Without actively realizing that they have a stake in the health of the environment, people can easily overlook the damage they may be causing.

PIcture 3

The reason I decided to study Sustainable Development as a full-fledged postgraduate course was, precisely, to understand what those values and virtues meant for mainstream development, how the two could be integrated, and, more importantly, to build a case for why such integration should happen in the first place.

I appreciate the way the Sustainable Development Practice program unraveled the different pathways of sustainable development. The interdisciplinary nature of the program ensured that students approached the topic from different perspectives. Before the course, my understanding of the concept merely scratched the surface. But in its pursuit, I came to understand just how intrinsically our built environment and lifestyles are dependent on the natural environment across geographies, societies, culture, and political economies.

Picture 1

I have experienced many different emotions in the journey through the course, and after. At times, the field can be extremely depressing, with no solutions or end in sight. It is easy to feel demotivated and question why you are doing what you are doing. If you are an academic, or a researcher, or perhaps a consultant, it’s also easy to dissociate yourself from the real world, treat it like an assignment, and forget that issues around sustainability and development are very personal to many impoverished people. In addition, not everyone in the ‘environment and development’ sector will share your passion in equivalent terms.

Nevertheless, it is at these low points that I also find inspiration by turning to my younger self; when my passion and ideals were still unalloyed, when my hope for the world was uninfluenced by the innumerous challenges that stood in the way. Therefore, my decision to study Sustainable Development is one amongst many I take to contribute to a better future: one that does not compromise future generation’s ability to meet their needs.

 

Nuvodita Singh
M.A. Sustainable Development Practice, TERI University

On the Record: On Ethical Fashion

For our fifth segment of On the Record, our Sustainability Officer, Ida Marie Sandvik, talks about ethical consumption and the fashion industry. She also invites us to reflect on our roles as consumers and what we can do as individuals to achieve a more ethical fashion industry.

maggie

Q. Why did you pick this picture in particular?
A. I picked this picture because I did two events this week for Fashion Revolution Week and these are some of the materials we used, and a bit of a summary of what has happened this week.

Q. Could you tell me a bit more about those events?
A. I had one presentation for two organisations in Monash, and they asked me to talk about ethical consumption, and then today I had a participatory workshop because I am the student ambassador for Fashion Revolution. So to support their movement and in the spirit of Fashion Revolution week we had this workshop for people to discuss the power dynamics in the fashion supply chain.

Q. What got you interested in fashion and, particularly, in the ethics of the fashion industry?
A. It is actually quite a long story but I studied anthropology and I have always been interested in understanding behavioural economy and read a lot of books about the psychology behind choices when we buy or consume products. I then decided to come to Australia to study International Development and specialise in Sustainable Resource Management, and then I saw the connection between the fashion industry and behavioural economy. I have also worked for a fast-fashion company, where I got an understanding of these new trends constantly coming in encouraging us to consume.

Q. Do you see any improvements in the fashion industry?
A. I am doing my thesis on sustainable fashion at the moment, and I have definitely found both in the academic field and also looking at media outlets and at industry reports that there is a movement now towards more responsibility and higher sustainability in production. Companies are now considering where they buy their clothes from and what materials they are using. I definitely see that there is an ongoing movement that is gaining more momentum.

Q. Do you have any advice for us as consumers as to how we can help?
A. My advice is to really consider how you vote with your money. Every time that you buy a product it is actually a vote for the world you want or the products that you want. Really consider the bigger picture of your consumption; both in terms of the materials you buy into but also how much you buy, and what brands you support.

 

 

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4 skills you will need to apply for a PhD

Following my previous post, these are a few core skills that I found vital when applying for a PhD. While the list below reflects my personal experience, I believe it might be a good starting point for other aspiring candidates. That said, others may need different skill sets (and even strategies that are different from what I have shared) to make their PhD application successful.

1. Formulating a research idea

While it might sound like stating the obvious, formulating a clear research idea is key to a successful application. You will need to narrow down a research gap, critique current theories or approaches or methods, and articulate your position through a new research idea.

2. Searching and networking for information

Knowing where you can apply and where to get funding from, what you need to prepare, when the deadlines are, and how you should submit the application are all crucial. You also need to find effective ways to gather information on where you can do your PhD. Doing some in depth online research is the norm, but attending conferences or talking to people are other great ways of obtaining relevant insights.

In my particular case, I tried all the above mentioned approaches. However, I found  the most relevant news through a Facebook post. Some programs and projects (like mine) do not publicise and circulate their information widely,  and so you really have to cast the net wider and network with people.

3. Writing an effective research proposal 

It is important to emphasise that this document will let your supervisors and those processing your application know what you are going to do. I have outlined the structure of a thesis proposal in this guideline, but you should check all requirements carefully before applying.

That said, while a proposal is important, your research ideas can change as you progress. Professors are aware of this. As a matter of fact, they will expect you to improve and refine your proposal throughout your PhD. Therefore, treat the proposal as a proof of your competencies by showing your critical and analytical thinking. Do not let the fear of not knowing enough intimidate you or constrain you while preparing the proposal. After all, it is about the potential of the research project; no proposal will ever be perfect.

4. Communicating effectively with all key stakeholders

I can’t emphasise this enough, but effective communication with all stakeholders is as important to your success as your GPA and research proposal.

It is therefore vital to communicate with your potential supervisors, funding/admission officers, and university administrators in a timely, polite, and confident manner. More often than not, they will try to help you should there be any issues during your application process. For example, if you need to submit a document late or have had a personal issue that might have affected your application, do communicate with them and always try to offer an alternative solution. During your admission interview, act confident and try to create rapport with your interviewers. Pay attention to details; do not forget to thank them, and follow up with them on your application the way you would do when applying for a job.

Duong
MIDP Alumni