EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH FOR QUALITY OF LIFE REALITY OR UTOPIA ?
J. Joseph & R. J. Monobe
School of Education , University of Venda, Thohoyandou, SA
There is a lot of research going on in the School of Education, University of Venda. Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) students have to submit a mini-dissertation as part of their degree; students registering for Master of Education (M.Ed.) by coursework also submit mini-dissertations. Some students do M.Ed. by dissertations only. Academic staff regularly present their research findings at national and international conferences and submit their papers to educational journals. The questions raised in this paper are: (a) how much of this research is relevant to raising the quality of life and (b) what effort is put into implementing the research findings to improve the standard of education which in turn reflect on the quality of life of our people. The researchers would like to demonstrate that though a number of relevant issues are researched and very practical solutions found to improve the educational system, little or no effort is made to apply the research findings to improve the quality of life. This paper tries to address the implementation aspect of research findings.
1.1 Historical and Geographical context
South African Universities fall into two categories : Historically Black Universities (HBUs) and Historically White Universities (HWUs). The University of Venda (UNIVEN), situated in the Northern Province of South Africa, falls under the former category and is the baby in the family of South African Universities. It was conceived in 1982 by the former Venda Homeland Government. Though born to satisfy the egos of the former rulers, it has grown rapidly and at present caters to 8000 students drawn from all corners of South Africa. . As one travels the length and breadth of the Northern Province, one comes across rural communities living in villages, many without basic amenities like water, surviving on subsistence farming or dependent on income from relatives working in the cities. It is therefore imperative that a university situated in an underdeveloped environment should help develop the quality of life of the community around it.
1.2 Quality of life
The expression quality of life is nebulous. One cannot define it except in relative terms. In the context of underdeveloped countries, one could safely pin it down by stating that satisfaction of basic needs such as food, water, shelter and clothing constitute to some extent a measure of the quality of life. According to Khotseng (1992:92), a socially responsible university should have as its basic goal the organization of knowledge for action. It must relate its research to community problems and must strive to make research accessible to its external clients. He goes on to say that participation of the faculty at the university and the teachers at schools is important in bridging the gap between what goes on in the university and the community (1992).
Hence the absolute minimum in terms of quality of life is when everyone has enough to eat, a roof over his/her head and the necessary clothing for protection from the vagaries of nature. The primary function of governments all over the world is to provide basic human rights to their citizens. Universities as educational agents of the government have a major role in this process. One way to achieve this is through research which is part and parcel of any university. For Dubbey (1991:8), a university is almost by definition an institute to provide high level of teaching and research and to do so in the context of national development, of nation building, and of leadership characterized by disciplined thinking, creativity and service to the community. Any university worth its salt needs to examine its performance in the light of these objectives.
2.1 Types of Research
For purposes of the current discussion, research will be divided into basic and applied.
2.2 Basic Research
The aim of basic research is to obtain the empirical data that can be used to formulate, expand or evaluate a theory. It seeks to widen the frontiers of knowledge without regard to practical application. Of course, the findings may eventually be applied to practical problems. Its major concern is the discovery of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Its design is not hampered by considerations of the social usefulness of the findings (Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh, 1990: 26-27). Mason and Bramble (1997: 20) say that the basic researcher studies phenomena in controlled settings for the purpose of understanding the relationships involved and to be able to make generalizations about these relationships that can form a theory.
2.1.3 Applied Research
Applied research involves the use of research strategies to establish cause and effect relationships and to make generalizations about such relationships in order to solve specific practical problems. The term overlaps with what other authors refer to as action research or evaluative research (Vockell, 1983: 350)
According to Mason and Bramble (1997: 20) the applied scientist tries to test the findings of the basic researcher in applied settings.
2.1.2 Basic versus Applied Research
It is important to maintain a realistic balance between basic and applied research. However, according to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) (1988: 7), this balance is debatable. According to Vockell (1983: 357), basic research (theoretical research) focuses primarily at the conceptual level whereas applied research focuses on the use of research methods to solve particular problems. The methodologies of the two types of research are quite similar but theoretical research gives primary attention to the intervening variable whereas applied research gives only minimal attention to the same. For Mason and Bramble (1997: 19), the major purpose of basic research is to develop a foundation of dependable and widely accepted knowledge upon which theory and explanation can be built . On the other hand, applied research answers practical and useful questions.( e.g. policies, programs, projects etc.)
In our view, the debate between basic and applied research is academic. The crux of the matter is that any research done must be disseminated to the relevant stakeholders and the findings, if possible implemented.
3. DISSEMINATION OF RESEARCH FINDINGS
Mwamwenda (1997: 93) avers that research is incomplete until it assumes the form of publication especially in nationally and internationally refereed journals of repute. This makes it accessible to other academics and scholars. We would go one step further and state that the dissemination of research findings should begin at home, to the immediate community, so that the process of implementation should begin at the earliest. Publishing in accredited journals is important for the advancement of the researcher; however, it is equally important that the new knowledge which is a necessary outcome of research, must reach those who need it most. The question will arise: who are they? Obviously, those who can implement best teachers, NGOs, civil servants and others at the ground level.
Effective research in the field of education presents researchers, supervisors and postgraduate students with practical guidelines which ensures that research will benefit the community (Bulletin, 1997: 22).
Dissemination of research findings plays an important role for implementation to take place. In other parts of the world, it forms an integral part of the process of implementation while little or no attention is given to the same in South Africa (HSRC, 1988: 17). This is all the more true of HBUs, where a culture of research has begun to develop only recently.
Researchers should bear in mind that the user of research findings on micro, meso and macro levels belong to the research community and needs to be informed. This supply of research findings may, however, not be regarded as a one-way activity in which the user is dependent on the researchers publications. If research is to have an effect on what is happening in the field of education it must be made available to the user in a form which will be useful to him.
However, there are a number of problems related to the proper dissemination of research findings . The following are some of them.
Mwamwenda (1997: 93) asserts that research, publications, teaching, administration and community service are some of the major functions with which both universities and academics identify. But despite all this, research and publications are the most important. Consequently, academics do research in order to publish in accredited journals at the expense of disseminating information locally to relevant stakeholders. Hence, it does not matter even if your research is not known locally or regionally as long as you are recognized as an academic worldwide.
Supervisors, apparently, do not guide students in publication procedures. Hence, most of the dissertations end up gathering dust in the special collection section of the media centers of university libraries.
With a curriculum that is product-oriented, students tend to complete their research project as a necessary evil. No thought is given to the dissemination or implementation aspects of their research findings.
The tendency on the part of certain academics to package the same research findings in different forms and present the same at different national and international venues, makes them unwilling to allow others to have access to their research findings. This process of recycling gives a false impression of productivity.
For research findings to be implemented, they have to be disseminated to relevant stakeholders who are in most cases the ordinary members of the community. This implies that this information must be translated into language that can be easily understood. This process involves money. And often the funding is insufficient.
Even when funds are available, access to these funds is not easy. One has to go through a maze of red-tape and administrative brickwalls.
HBUs are undersourced. Academics have to deal with large classes and have to spend large amounts of time in marking, consultations and meetings. As a result they end up being burnt out. Even though they have successfully completed a research project, they do not have the energy to disseminate it.
Implementation can be better achieved if teachers and other educators undertake to solve their own practical problems through research.
Access to the special reserve section is limited to a few hours a day; no dissertations are allowed to be taken out.
4. METHODS OF DISSEMINATION
4.1 In-house gatherings
Scholars reading papers at national and international conferences and contributing articles to journals should whet their research findings at these gatherings. Before students are allowed to submit their dissertations, they must be made to defend their theses before an invited audience. Such meetings serve the dual purpose of evaluation and dissemination.
4.2 National and International Conferences
Organization of national and international conferences help disseminate and implement information. While participants at such conferences do it actively, delegates are the agents of dissemination.
4.2.1 In-house journals
Every Faculty of Education should have its own journal which should be distributed as widely within the community as possible.
4.2.2 Newspapers and Magazines
Relevant research findings should be published in popular newspapers and magazines in a language that is suitable to the readership.
4.2.3 National and International Journals
When research findings are published in national and international journals, the same is subject to a wider readership of scholars who can objectively assess them. This helps in the exchange of knowledge between institutions and countries.
4.4 In-service courses
In-service courses could be organized by Departments of Education where researchers can workshop their findings.
4.5 Educational Television and Radio
TVs and radios, due to their wide availability and audience can help disseminate information to wider a spectrum of the populace. The process of starting a UNIVEN radio station has already begun.
What does dissemination of research mean in the day of the "web"? Anyone can write anything, put it up on the web, and have it read by far more people than would ever see it in a journal. It is now possible to count hits on a web document or page. It is time to change "publish or perish" to "get hit or get out". While anything may be published if one finds the right journal or conference, the web allows us to measure something that couldnt before be measured: readership.
5.1 When funding is made available for research, it must be emphasized that the research findings should be disseminated and adequate provision made for the same. A detailed explanation of the ways and means of dissemination and the target group must be part of the research proposal. Research that is not used can be viewed as research effort wasted. Publication in itself is not a sufficiently sensitive indicator of how well research is disseminated or utilized. Publications in the academic press is of central importance but research-to-practice dissemination and development work should be given equal weight.
5.2 Those who actively participate in the process of dissemination through the organization of conferences, seminars and through publications should be suitably rewarded.
5.3 Supervisors should take a proactive role in the dissemination process both by personal involvement and by motivating his/her charges.
5.4 The process of dissemination must be made an integral part of the curriculum.
5.5 One necessary condition for funding research/conferences/workshops must be that a full report is submitted to the funding body, which in turn is expected to have its own mechanisms in place for dissemination to relevant stake-holders.
5.6 A separate vote should be made in the research budget for dissemination purposes.
5.7 The procedure for accessing funds from the research budget should be simplified.
5.8 The Government, both at regional and national level, should get involved in a proactive fashion to redress the imbalances of the past . It must take into account the historical and geographical context of HBUs and fund them accordingly. The Government policy on research capacity development as enunciated in its draft white paper on higher education leaves much to be desired (Draft White Paper on Higher Education, 1997: 37-38). One cannot agree with the statement " While individual excellence in teaching is often assisted by and associated with an active research portfolio, it is not dependent on research experience." This goes against the very nature of teaching, which involves research in one form or another. If one accepts this statement uncritically, the next step is to declare that certain institutions are to carry out teaching functions only and not conduct research! The HBUs, which were incapacitated by the past from developing into centres of research excellence, will be the first to fall into this category.
Furthermore, the governments policy to earmark funds to preserve and strengthen the existing areas of research excellence will tend to benefit only those HWUs with proven research capacity. It is important that funds be provided specifically to disadvantaged institutions to initiate and develop research capacity.
5.9 Deans of Research at universities should compile a quarterly journal of abstracts of all published works for that period to be distributed as widely as possible.
5.10 When making appointments at universities, preference should be accorded to those with proven capacity to disseminate and implement research findings.
5.11 Sharing of new information can be fostered through the development of linkages and networks between institutions.
Dissemination of research findings and the implementation thereof are of vital importance in raising the quality of life of the people in the community served by any university. It is therefore the contention of this paper that research without dissemination and implementation is utopian and of little practical value in an underdeveloped country. UNIVEN, like all other HBUs, will have to pay more attention to doing useful research and to the dissemination and implementation aspects . In conclusion, the involvement of all parties in educational research with a wider vision will be meaningful to all concerned.
We thank you for your patient attention.
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