IOM and Caritas must teach students importance of education

Published on Sep 22 2008 // Interview

Cora Schram, 26, is a student from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. As part of her study on master in cultural anthropology, she conducted three-month of research in Beldangi I, II and II-extension camps, where exiled Bhutanese live. During this research, she focused on the importance of education inside the refugee camps, and its influence on the construction of a national identity and sense of belonging to Bhutan among young exiled Bhutanese. The research also incorporated children's daily experiences while growing up inside the camps. Bhutan News Service talked to her on wide range of issue while in Kathmandu. Excerpts:

What made you interested on the issue of exiled Bhutanese?
My interest in the (exiled) Bhutanese situation was born after my visit to Bhutan in 2001. As a participant in a cultural exchange program between the Netherlands and Bhutan, I was made to believe that Bhutan was “one happy nation”, and that there we no problems at all. This means not a word was spoken about those citizens evicted out of the country. After returning to the Netherlands and starting my anthropology study, I found out the true story of this 'Shangri-la'. I was shocked, and felt naive, sad and angry for not knowing. It was then that I decided I wanted to learn more about the real Bhutan by visiting the camps where exiled Bhutanese live.

Why did you decided to do research on education?
During my studies, I have been working for a small organization called Critical Mass. This organization develops awareness programs (about social processes than can lead to conflict) for high school children in the Netherlands. As a result of this work, I have become very interested in the major context education plays in children's socialization process. I found the fact that schools enable a large number of people to learn simultaneously where they belong to, particularly interesting in the case of a refugee camp. And since I had already made up my mind about going to Damak, I decided to focus my research on education.

Did you get what you expected?
During my research, I received a lot of help and assistance from different people and organizations. LWF offered me to join their vehicle from Damak, so that I was able to reach the camps on a daily basis. Caritas Nepal facilitated my research by making contact with the school teachers. Teachers welcomed me and offered me their classrooms, so I could interview the students privately. And children were kind enough to share their live stories with me. Besides this, I received help from seven BRCF-members, who became my research assistants on a part of my research on drop-out students.

So, what are the findings?
I spend most of my days within classrooms and schools, observing classes and talking to teachers and students. Although the aim of my research was not to compare the education inside the camp with my own education, some major differences immediately caught my eye. First of all, the number of children within one classroom was almost twice as high within the camp, as compared to my old classroom. I also noticed the stronger segregation between boys and girls in a classroom, which was not present at all at my old school. Besides these physical differences, I also noticed a difference in the method of teaching. Here, most of the teaching was in the form of a monologue, while interaction is a huge part of the Dutch education system. Also, I was surprised how children were able to concentrate with all the noise coming from the other side of the thin-walled bamboo separation. But in spite of these difficulties, I believe most of the teachers are doing a great job. And although some of the children mentioned to be likewise disturbed, most of them were very positive about their school and teachers. The number of bright and intelligent children I have spoken to, seem to prove this as a fact.

Do you find hurdles in the system?
Although most respondents regard the education inside the camps as good (or even better than the education in Nepal), a high number of respondents nevertheless thinks the quality of the education has decreased, partly because of the resettlement process. Some students are neglecting their studies because their mind is distracted by the procedure. Others think their education will not be sufficient anyway, so why bother to finish it? And yet others mention it is better to quit school and get practical knowledge, since they believe this will be more useful to them when they go abroad. Children also mentioned a decreasing level of education, caused by the fact that many teachers leave the camp to earn more money, or to go for resettlement.

What you concluded then?
I don't want to be ahead of my thesis (which will be finished in January 2009 only), but I can mention some of the outcomes of the report I have written together with my research assistants. In this report, which we have presented to representatives from LWF, Caritas and IOM on August 6, we have tried to come up with some solutions and recommendations to maintain and/or improve the standard of education inside the camps. In the first place, we feel that teachers and schools should pay more attention to students who have a higher risk to drop out of school, for example by giving them 'empowerment' training. We think that empowerment training can strengthen the students' self-confidence, which will ultimately give them more courage to continue to go to school. In order to deal with the students who drop out of school because of a lack of practical classes inside the schools, we advice to start optional classes in which students get the chance to develop a skill (like repairing bicycles, carpentry, construction, etc). Adding practical knowledge to the current curriculum might encourage especially those students who have difficulties with fact knowledge, to continue to go to school. Lastly, we found one point that might solve some of the tension and uncertainties caused by the resettlement process. Because of lack of information about the education system in the countries that are willing to take them, many children expressed feelings of uncertain about whether their education will be useful or not. As mentioned above, one respondent thought practical knowledge would be more useful in foreign countries than a diploma. Others think their education will not be sufficient anyway, so why bother to finish it? At this level, we see an important job for both Caritas and IOM, to inform students about the importance of education. Also, we would like to ask them to start providing information about the education system inside the 'third countries'. We believe by giving this information, students will be better able to continue their normal daily lives, without being distracted by the resettlement process too much.

How safe are camps for foreigners to carry on researches?
Although the resettlement process causes a lot of tension inside the camps, I have never felt unsafe while walking around the camps. Therefore, I believe the answer to this question depends largely on people's personality, open mindedness and their topic of research. I would nevertheless like to encourage people to get acquainted with the friendly, warmhearted and hospitable Bhutanese I have met inside the camps.