Challenges faced by researchers when working with marginalised people

By Saraswati Dawadi
A recent surge in the use of technology in education is deemed to have a positive impact on how students learn, and teachers are enabled to achieve pedagogical change. However, differential access to technologies, along geographic (rural/urban), socio-economic (rich/poor) and gender divides, is well documented (Soomro et al., 2020; Shreshta, et al. 2021; Dawadi et al., 2020), hence not everyone can reap the benefits. Furthermore, studies on marginalised children’s and their parents’ and teachers’ experiences of using technology for student learning are conspicuously absent. ReMaLIC aims to fill this gap in research. It looks at the roles of technology and the English language in promoting or reducing marginalisation from marginalisedpeople’s perspectives, giving them a voice rather than making assumptions about them.
ReMaLIC team members have visited different locations in the four countries involved in the project to collect experiences of the people that are hard to reach and/or are left behind. For instance, in Bangladesh, we studied marginalised communities in Banderban – one of the remotest parts of the country. In the context of Nepal, children from Thauru community and Squatter families were invited to take part in the study, and in Sudan, Nomadic and war displaced communities. However, we faced a number of challenges in working with marginalised people:
a. Most participants were not familiar with research culture and initially they did not seem comfortable in taking part in the study. So, we had to spend a number of days establishing a rapport and building trust among participants.
b. Participants’ low level of education was another challenge for us. Many parents were not able to read our consent forms and information sheets. So, we had to read the documents for them and provide oral information. Additionally, we had to be very mindful of how we communicated with them. We tried our best to make interview questions as simple and direct as possible, avoiding jargon.
c. We faced a difficulty in obtaining parents’ written consent by signing a form. Many parents, particularly from Bangladesh and Nepal, did not seem to be comfortable putting their signatures on the consent forms though they seemed happy to provide oral consent. Furthermore, some parents were not able to put their written signature on the consent forms. So, we had to ask them just to put a cross (x) on the form, in place of their signature.
d. Participants’ hesitation to express themselves was another big challenge for us. During interviews and focus groups many participants provided very brief responses as they did not seem to feel comfortable talking about their experiences. For instance, in the context of Sudan, girls particularly hesitated to express their views freely. In many cases, they would just repeat what their friends mentioned. To address this issue, we used some key strategies such as using every child’s name whenever possible as it conveys that the researcher is interested in them; praising the children often for their contributions and not dismissing their opinions or cutting across their conversations; and asking them some probing questions.
e. Another challenge was concerned with the researchers’ identity as an academic/ researcher. Some participants said that they did not consider themselves knowledgeable enough to talk about any of the issues that we were interested in. So, we tried our best to underplay our identity as a researcher in such a way that the social and knowledge gaps between us and our participants were minimized. Hence, a friendly relationship with the participants was developed and conversation was kept more informal with them, so as not to lose their naturalness of expression.
f. Parents’ busy schedule was another challenge for us. Parents were fully occupied with household and farming activities (particularly women) and manual jobs (mostly men). So, they hardly had any time for our interviews. We had to visit most of them at home in the mornings and evenings; some were available only on Saturdays and/or on public holidays. In some cases, we had to even cancel our planned visits.
As Sapkota (2016) rightly points out, conducting research in marginalised communities is not only difficult but also ethically challenging. Such research requires careful planning, a flexible time schedule, and expertise to deal with the issues of researching marginalised communities.

Dawadi, S. Giri, R. A & Simkhada, P. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 on the education sector in Nepal: Challenges and coping strategies.
Sapkota, P. (2016). Community, social marginalisation and adaptation to climate change: An analysis of community forestry system in the middle hills of Nepal. An unpublished PhD thesis. University of Melbourne.
Shrestha, S., Haque, S., Dawadi, S. & Giri, R. A. (2021). Preparations for and practices of online education during the Covid‑19 pandemic: A study of Bangladesh and Nepal. Education and Information Technologies, 27, 243–265.
Soomro, K. A., Kale, U., Curtis, R., Akcaoglu, M., & Bernstein, M. (2020). Digital divide among higher education faculty. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 17(1), 21.

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