Echoes from the field: Meeting gatekeepers

16716167_10154395149407549_2697571276313872087_oJane Nebe is a 2nd Year PhD student at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research is investigating the consequences that poor academic performance in Nigeria’s high-stakes examinations, have on post-secondary school educational aspirations. 

I stood before him with a smile. An elderly man with grey hairs, standing tall and confident. He was holding white chalks, about four pieces of them. It’s been a while that I saw white chalks. For some seconds, I fixed my gaze on the white chalks as it brought back forgotten memories – copying notes from blackboards as a student, writing on blackboards as a teacher and secretly chewing white chalks when the craving arose. But I was not there to see white chalks. I was there to get access to meet potential participants for my research. Papa, as he is fondly called, was the first gatekeeper I met as I commenced fieldwork. Papa teaches and supervises activities, at a privately owned coaching centre for secondary school students and leavers, who are preparing to write Nigeria’s high-stakes examinations. The high-stakes examinations are for certification and selection into higher educational institutions. He returned my smile with a smile of his own as I began to introduce myself.

white chalks

My PhD research is exploring the lived experiences of secondary school leavers who wrote the secondary school exit Certificate Examinations (CEs) in Nigeria, in order to understand how poor academic performance in the CEs initiates consequences on educational aspirations. On 27th December 2016, I returned to Nigeria to commence data collection using a Mixed Methods Phenomenological Research (MMPR) Design. After a pilot phase, qualitative data was collected using Life-Grid charts and interviews. The preliminary analysis of the qualitative data, the stage I am presently in, is informing the design of the questionnaires that will be administered in the next phase, after being piloted. Getting supportive gatekeepers has been easier than anticipated, but I cannot say the same for getting actual participants who meet the criteria for selection. As I continue with the preliminary analysis of my qualitative data, I see potential ways of improving my sampling strategy and design, in order to enrich my research findings. But time is a factor I must take into consideration if I intend to make any revision in the next phase of my research design.

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Reflecting on my fieldwork experience so far, I am grateful to all the gatekeepers that I am working with presently. Prior to our first encounters, I neither knew nor had met any of them. I am impressed by how much they value knowledge and wish to be a part of something that would seemingly extend the frontiers of knowledge. They have provided the platforms for me to address potential participants. They have allowed me to use their space as the venue for collecting data. I have had some of them refer me to other places I can find potential participants. They have always welcomed me pleasantly when I arrive. And yes, Papa tried to match-make me with one of his handsome teachers. Perhaps, I would have given it some thought, if I did not have to explain its ethical implications for my research. For now, I will just focus on collecting ‘rich data’.

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