‘Those who wish to take part in a research to see me at my Ghana 1 office after this lecture’ Dr Munyua Waiyaki announced. He was my lecturer in Education Foundations at Kenyatta University. I was among the first to appear. A number of questionnaires were given to me to distribute among fellow students. The study was about smoking and other drugs. In a few days I was back with the completed questionnaires, earning a few shillings that gladly subsidized my meals at the mess. Beef was on my menu for a few days.
Over the years, I have been involved in some research exercises and have used research methods to develop strategic plans, surveys on various matters and more recently in National and regional studies on education matters. It was in one annual conference of Twaweza East Africa at Kisumu, in 2014, that Dr Sheila asked those who wished to participate in the Value-based Education research to apply. The study was coordinated by Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK).
I got recruited as the Coordinator and Supervisor for Nyeri County. My tutelage had begun. Another of my teachers in the Department of Education Foundations at Kenyatta University was back, this time to supervise my field work, though remotely. Dr Sheila Wamahiu was back. My performance in the quantitative survey component of the Value-based Education Study was satisfying to me at the personal level. I was on time for the daily report posts to the cloud. Using my laptop and a modem I would transmit my reports right from the field. By end week I gathered all the questions from the enumerators and sent them through Wells Fargo courrier services. That done I was ready for other tasks with Twaweza. As a National Trainer I was sent to several counties across the country to train and supervise enumerators for the annual learning assessments. That developed my management and training skills greatly.
In 2015, I receive a call from Nairobi. Someone honourable needs an appointment with me at Nyeri. The day comes and we meet. The story of Jaslika Consulting is shared with me. A new idea under experienced hands. Dr Sheila expounds her idea and requests me to join her team of researchers. I am ready. Looks like a great idea. I am invited to the launch of the report on Value based Education at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in 2016. Dr Matiang’i, the Education Cabinet Secretary was the chief guest at the launch. The study I had been part of as a County Coordinator, had borne fruit.
Fast forward to 2017. I am invited to be part of a team to carry out a scoping study as a prelude to an in-depth inquiry of Positive Deviance schools. I am paired with Becky, a lecturer at Kenyatta University and assigned to the Rift Valley region. On the appointed day, we hit the ground running. Once in the field, we meet the Sub-County Education officers. From our list of proposed schools we choose two day primaries. As we undertake the scoping exercise. I have to get used to the practical application of qualitative research. Terms as walkabout, observations, FGD assume new meaning for me. I was familiar with the terms but not quite as the field experience revealed. Being a manager and coordinator of processes is different from getting into it directly. Daily reporting on the cloud was not a challenge for me. I actually over did it. The interview transcripts … my God, this was funny. I do it my way, making summaries of what I had heard…It was not the way I was told to do it...but... there was evidence that I had been on the ground. The audio-recorder worked and did not work at the same time. A lot of hard work. I had to agree there was a lot more I needed to learn. I meant well all the same.
Soon after, I was bound for a bigger team work in Mombasa. The Aga Khan Foundation had contracted Jaslika to carry out a study on Value Based Education in the coastal counties of Mombasa and Kwale. Here I had to listen more accurately to the guidance of the Lead Researcher. With Dr Sheila, you have two choices, to listen or to listen keenly. Read what is written and ensure you understand it. Seek clarification when the sun is still up in the sky. In your own way, you discover how empathetic and how caring she is and know how she enjoys little stories and jokes when the work is done.
The training takes two days here and we depart to different sub-counties of Mombasa and Kwale. I am sent to Kwale with my team. This was exciting in terms of the new things I learnt as I interacted with the different informants including Education Officers, school board members, head teachers, students, teachers, parents and religious leaders. A night on the mat at Vanga Island, a mosquito infested Island, bordering Tanzania, is unforgettable. My phone doubled as the audio recorder. I had to learn how to block calls since any call would interrupt the recording. I had to repeat a FGD after learning I had recorded nothing of the long discussion. This was the most intensive week in my research experience. I was however on spot in my daily reporting and keeping records of consent. Back to my Nyeri office I prepared my transcripts with support of my office assistant.
The field experience with Jaslika not only sharpens your skill of data gathering and processing but also trains you on people and communication skills. All the work is done in teams. You have to learn to be a team even with kind and unkind people, gentle and rough people, highly experienced and novices. You have so much to learn as each member of the team draws in their genius to the exercise and deal with people of all ages and exposure. Your emotional intelligence soars higher with more quotients. You are trained to do everything. At Kwale, I quickly learnt that the best way is to do your task without expecting anyone else to fill in. Let them do their tasks too to the completion. The lead researcher, Dr Sheila will sometimes accompany you to the field and share in the evening briefs. She seems to get more awake and energized as the night grows deeper. Woe to you if you wanted to sneak out for an evening dance in a new town…you will meet the dance hall empty after all other revelers have gone to sleep.. Training is normally done at the site of the exercise so that the team acclimatized to the environment.
As a matter of fact what were mere terms in research make more sense to me after my research experience with Jaslika. I have experienced purposive sampling, scoping, triangulation, establishing saturation in data, trip reports, exit reports, FGDs, community walkabouts, casual interviews, transcripts, cloud reporting. I have read inception reports, menu of tools and beautiful study report where my name appears well spelt and making me look like a real expert. I have understood how research informs policy. The only thing I need magic to deal with is the actual transcription. It takes a whole day at minimum to transcribe an audio record of 30 minutes. Is there a machine that can do this and leave me to do the analysis?
With Jaslika, I have been involved in the study of two uncommon areas of learning outcomes, the Positive Deviance and Value-based Education. Both of them very interesting and intriguing subjects. The field study done with Jaslika has given me understanding of research and its import than I have studied in my undergraduate and graduate classes. I have witnessed how research informs policy. I have been part of a team that creates new knowledge upon which other people can base their academic and professional argumentation. Jaslika should be licensed to offer degree in practical research to those involved in its studies. It’s damn good training!