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Tag: student voices

Student voices: Learning How to Navigate Big City Labor Markets in Small-Town India

kunal2This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Kunal Mangal, PhD Public Policy, 2021, HKS

I had two main goals for this visit. The first was to develop and pilot a survey on career awareness, in collaboration with my partner organization, LEAP Skills Academy. The second was to develop relationships that would be helpful in allowing me to continue to this work in the future. In this report I’ll describe the progress I made on each of these goals.

Based on my observations the past summer, I felt that students in small-town Haryana generally lacked awareness about careers outside of their local labor market, and hypothesized that this lack of awareness may lead students to under invest in their skills (relative to what they would have preferred to do if they had full information). The primary purpose of the survey was to test the underlying assumptions of this hypothesis.

Since writing my grant proposal, I decided to refine my research question in several ways. I focused my survey on the specific knowledge students had of what employers expected from them. The fact that English and computer skills are generally valued in the private sector seems to be well known; the uncertainty seems to lie in what firms are specifically looking for in candidates when they interview them. However, a challenge in taking this approach is that different sectors of the economy can have very diverse requirements of job seekers. After talking to LEAP trainers and local professors, I decided it would be best to focus on IT-related degrees. The advantage of doing this is that students in IT-related degrees are typically positioning themselves for a single sector of the economy, where companies tend to have similar requirements and expectations. This lends itself to measuring knowledge with an objective test.  

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Student voices: Constructions of citizenship and belonging for the stateless Rohingya of Burma


This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Cresa Pugh, PhD Social Policy, 2022

I am immensely indebted to the South Asia Institute for their generous support of my winter session research project in Burma. Over the course of the 28 days that I was in the country I was able to successfully complete each of the activities outlined in my proposal, which included conducting archival research on colonial nation-building, field research such as interviewing and expanding my network of key research informants. In addition, I was able to visit culturally, historically and socially important sites and organizations relevant to my research topic.

When I applied for the research grant I had planned to explore the meaning of statelessness and citizenship for the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group. Once I arrived and began conducting interviews though, my interest shifted slightly to an understanding of the effects of Buddhist ultra-nationalism on ethnic minority groups, particularly Muslim communities such as the Rohingya. This slight tweak in my research question allowed me to have more expansive interviews and conversations as well as expanding the literature available to me to investigate this particular question.

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Student voices: Understanding the role of fathers in their young childrens care, health, and development


This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Joshua Jeong, Doctor of Science Global Health and Population 2019

Through the generous support of the South Asia Institute’s Winter session Research Grant, I was able to travel to Pakistan this January to launch a primary qualitative research study, which will comprise one chapter of my doctoral dissertation. More broadly, my dissertation utilizes a variety of methodologies to better understand how fathers contribute to their young children’s early well-being in specifically low- and middle-income countries. For my qualitative study, I am focusing specifically in Pakistan and employing both in-depth interviews and direct parent-child observations with mothers and fathers to understand drivers and experiences around parenting in the particular cultural context of rural impoverished Pakistan.

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Student voices: Achievement gaps in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.W17_Faiyad Zayan

By Zayan FaiyadHarvard College ’18

Faiyad conducted field research during winter session to identify root causes of the achievement gap in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, 13.8% of total primary school and over 20% of total secondary school enrollment are in Islamic schools, popularly known as Madrasas. An overwhelming majority of Madrasas are in rural areas, comprise primarily of students coming from low income families and are known to have a persistent achievement gap. Over winter session, I conducted interviews in several state regulated schools (Aliya Madrasa) across 3 districts: Dhaka (2 schools), Mymensingh (3 schools) and Chandpur (7 schools). I conducted interviews with 2 officials from the Madrasa Education Board in Dhaka, Madrasa administrators (mostly school principal or next point of contact), teachers and students.   

Experience with interviews: Although we had received prior commitment from 13 Madrasas allowing us to visit and speak with stakeholders, 1 male-only Madrasa denied our request to enter. The only admin official present in the premises said that that he was not informed about our arrival and the principal (our contact) was unreachable by phone. Other institutions were relatively welcoming. Some institutions had pre-designated which teachers we could speak to while others allowed us to interview any and all teachers. About half, generously allowed me to sit in classes and follow the lessons. Administrator and teacher responses varied in openness: most answered our questions with sufficient details, some sounded more guarded in their response and a few asked us what we hope to do with their answers.

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Student voices: Tiger reserves and nature preserves

YinThis is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Mei Yin Wu, Harvard College ’17

This wintersession I interned with the Wildlife Conservation Trust as a fellow working in the economics division. Having had traveled a fair bit, I was surprised to find Mumbai a beast of its own. During the first couple of days in the city, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of people and traffic. Mumbai is one of the ten most densely populated cities in the world (8 of which are in the Indian subcontinent). Due to the enormous size of the population, there is a large demand for motor vehicles, which inevitably contributes to higher levels of particulate matter in the air. Issues such as air pollution and water sanitation safety, however, are by no means unique to India. Most developing countries face these problems and in fact, most developed countries have experienced these issues in the past. But generally with consistently high growth rates, like the ones India has recently enjoyed, comes increased expectations of standards of life. I believe that India will face increasing pressure to combat the environmental issues that seem inherent to the process of economic development.

Despite the initial discomfort that came from adapting to new traffic patterns and air quality, I grew to appreciate the abundant diversity of Mumbai. Being a financial hub, Mumbai attracts people from all over India and as such, is home to many diverse cuisines and religious practices. I was able to sample Southern Indian street food at Matunga and “sizzlers,” Chinese Indian fusion dishes, in Nariman Point. According to my peer fellow, Pooja, people celebrate all religious holidays in Mumbai. In her circle of friends, her Muslim friends would invite her over for Eid, and she would return the favor when it came time for Diwali. Many people I spoke to seemed to disbelieve the claim of religious differences being the primary factor behind Indian-Pakistani conflict and instead viewed the conflict as a matter of politics. While the conversations I had were by no means necessarily indicative of popular opinion, it was interesting to hear local perspectives as a supplement to the views posited by Western professors.

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International Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to the following Harvard College students, who were chosen by SAI as winners for the Office of International Education’s Annual International Photo Contest. Each year, undergraduates submit photos from their summer travels around the world, whether from study programs, grants, or internships, and SAI selects winners for photos from South Asia. The winners were announced at a reception on February 10.

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Student voices: Forest Practice in India

House_inside_areca_garden_at_Kabbinale,IndiaThe following report was written by Aaron David Mendonca, Master candidate in Design Studies, Energy & Environments, Harvard Graduate School of Design. Mendonca is the founder of the Craftsmen, the runner up in SAI’s 2016 Seed for Change Competition. The Craftsmen is small forest enterprise facilitator that creates new value chains, provides year-round employment, and trains communities in sustainable harvesting practices.

Mendonca received a summer grant from SAI to conduct further research on forest practice in India. The following is a report based on his summer.

The deadline to apply for this year’s Seed for Change Competition is February 15.

Organizations In The Field

Meetings and engagements were held with various entities ranging from Forest Communities, Village Economic Development Committees,  Producer Companies, Cooperatives, Self-help Groups, Chief Conservative Officers, Divisional Forest Officers, the Forest Research Institute Dheradun, Tourism Bodies, Research Organisations, Forest Product Enterprises, Investors and Support Institutions.

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Student voices: The Politics of Knowledge

In search of a South Asian climate: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

In search of a South Asian climate: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Joshua Ehrlich, PhD Candidate, Department of History

A summer research grant from the South Asia Institute took me recently to a handful of archives across the UK: three in Scotland and one in London. The research was primarily in English and Indo-Persian source materials connected with my dissertation, “The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge.” These materials ranged from the mundane to the mystical; from the collections and correspondence of administrators to the poems and petitions of scholars. My project aims to give a new account of the political and ideological uses of knowledge in South Asia, in the eventful decades around 1800. Such materials are its evidentiary bread and butter.

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Student voices: Jousting over Jurisdiction

S16_Priyasha_Entrance to NAI New Delhi OfficeThis is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Priyasha Saksena, SJD Candidate, Harvard Law School 

In my doctoral dissertation, I am interested in unpacking the relationship between international law and empire. The existence of empires in a world of international law has always been a bit of a puzzle, since international law is supposed to be based on ideas of equality, sovereignty and justice. Some scholars argue that the existence of empires was an aberration in an otherwise equal world, an aberration corrected by the process of decolonization. Others argue that empires were central to the creation of modern international law, and particularly the concept of sovereignty, which is, therefore, encoded with ideas of civilizational difference. In my dissertation, I examine debates around the legal status of the princely states of colonial South Asia (entities that were not under British rule, but not wholly independent either) to suggest that the idea of sovereignty was a site of social and political struggle between the British and the South Asians. To support this claim, I focus on jurisdictional disputes between the princely states and the British empire to trace arguments made by British and South Asian lawyers, civil servants, administrators and intellectuals on ideas of sovereignty.

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Student voices: Teaching history through empathy

15193682_1146680992035386_9720135855591234_nThis is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Asad Liaqat, Doctoral candidate, Public Policy PhD program, Harvard Kennedy School; SAI Graduate Associate

This summer I worked with “The History Project” (THP) in Lahore, Pakistan to develop an evaluation strategy for an exciting set of workshops they are doing with school children. These workshops are aimed at improving critical thinking and increasing empathy in schoolchildren in Pakistan and India. As a researcher, my role in these workshops is to design an evaluation strategy to ascertain the impact of these workshops on critical thinking and empathy in children.

The workshops in themselves are borne out of THP’s previous work in schools in India and Pakistan, introducing children to the idea that there is multiplicity in historical narratives. They decided to place versions of the same incidents from Indian and Pakistani textbooks right next to each other and simply show that to students, taking in their reactions and learning how the rigid notions of right and wrong formed due to particular forms of socialization in formative years could be broken. Having gone through that development phase, THP was ready to start piloting its workshops this summer, and I formed a partnership with them to evaluate the impact of their interventions.

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