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Chapter 4 continued - Research Methodology: the concept of devolution in PNG education in context of the colonial legacy

In "PROBLEMS WITH DEVOLUTION OF PNG EDUCATION" by Dr Gabriel Kulwaum, Adminstrator, Manus Province

Research Methods

My research then, clearly constitutes a case study of the problems of devolution in PNG education. To conduct this study, I have used in-depth interviews and I have analysed PNG policy documents and reports relevant to the research question. Interviews and policy-document analysis are the main sources of data collection for this research project.

Interviews were used as the technique to collect the data--the perceptions (knowledge and information, values and preferences, attitudes and beliefs) of the respondents. Cohen and Manion (1994:271-273), citing Kitwood (1977), identify three conceptions of the interview. First, the interview is conceived as a potential means of pure information-transfer. It attempts to eliminate all sources of bias on the part of the interviewer by recording in an unmediated manner the words of the interviewees as they are spoken. Second, the interview is seen as a "transaction which inevitably has bias, which is to be recognised and controlled". This view sees the interpersonal aspects of interviews as obstacles to sound research. The third concept of the interview defines it as "an encounter necessarily sharing many of the features of everyday life". This view is concerned with siting the adequacy of the interpretation of the interview with the interviewers, rather than with the reliability and validity and success of the interview process. I was guided by the assumptions underlying the third view of the interview. It is argued that this form of interview proposed face-to-face interactions which involved the interpretations of information provided, and gave meaning to what the respondents presented as their perceptions of particular issues.

A review of the literature suggests that there are different types of interviews ranging from the formal interview through to the less formal, and finally, completely informal interviews, as well as non-directive interviews (Cohen and Manion, 1994:271). In formal interviews, preset questions are asked, and answers are recorded in a standardised format. Less formal interviews involve the changing of the sequence of questions, adding a few words to the questions, further explaining the questions and so on. The completely informal interview involves the interviewer, who has general issues in mind, which then form the basis of a conversation between the interviewer and interviewees.

Cohen and Manion (1994:273) further point out that there are four kinds of interviews: structured, unstructured, directive and focused. The structured interview involves the designing of specific questions requiring specific answers, prior to actual research. The researcher has already defined the aims and objectives of the research, as well as the issues to be addressed. The second kind of interview is more flexible, while it allows more freedom in the interaction. It is not as rigid as the structured interviews. The questions asked are guided by the purpose of the research, and the content and sequence of questions are negotiated in the process of conversation-style interview. The third form of interview (non-directive) allows the respondents to talk as much as possible, and at any time, with minimal control and direction from the interviewer. In this situation, the interviewer's role is that of a catalyst and facilitator. The final form, the focused interview, "e; is a continuing process of non-directive which involves the interviewer to probe further into respondents' subjective responses to the known situation in which the respondent has been involved and which has been analysed by the interviewer prior to the interview"e (Cohen & Manion, 1994:273).

In my research I selected and used a combination of the unstructured interview, the non-directive interview and the focused interview. The decision to do so was framed by the purposes of the research and the kinds of issues which this research project attempted to investigate. This form of interview did not permit maximum opportunities for the respondents to define the research problems. However, it did give them considerable autonomy to present their views in their own way, and for me to listen and interpret the hidden meanings of what the respondents were saying.

In these interviews, I used open-ended questions, rather than fixed-alternative or scale questions which were based on some key issues. The themes of the questions were used only as a guide to have meaningful dialogue with the respondents (see Appendix 3-- Questions Guide). The open-ended questions were more penetrating as they raised the questions "why", "how" and "what" rather than demanding "yes/no" or "agree/disagree" answers. If I had used the fixed-alternative and scale questions, they could have limited open dialogue and thus restricted the respondents from revealing valuable data, and so denying me access to valuable information.

The interviews conducted for this research were set against the background of an analysis of key issues by the policy documents and reports of PNG government in the post-independence period. Many of these documents are in the form of development plans, economic policies, sectoral reports and ministerial policy speeches, as well as parliamentary reports. These documents were analysed using the theoretical framework relating to the notions of colonialism, development and devolution discussed in Chapters Two and Three. Constant references were made to these documents in the course of interviews.

However, before interviews could be conducted, I had to select for interviews a range of key players with direct or indirect experience in the implementation of the policy of devolution in PNG education. The interviewees were sent from Australia a standardised letter of invitation to participate in the research (see Appendix 4--Letter of Invitation, and Appendix 5, Letter of Confirmation). The letter sought their permission to tape record the interviews and asked them to nominate a time and place convenient to them. The responses to the letter, however, were very slow, and in many cases those selected for interview did not respond at all. The reasons for the lack of response were many; including the unreliable postal system in PNG. Furthermore, a few national administrators were also busy at that time in the preparation of the national budget; to these people my invitation might have seemed insignificant. Also, many of the administrators remain sceptical of researchers; and many others have yet to recognise the importance of research for the development of public policies in PNG. Those invited to participate in the villages also encountered communication difficulties. Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of those invited agreed to be interviewed, despite these initial difficulties. Some of these people were particularly keen to talk to me, because they saw the interview as an opportunity to repay the contributions I had made to the development of education in PNG as a senior administrator in Manus Island. Also, they were pleased to talk to an indigenous researcher. It was argued that the relationship of reciprocity and "wantokism" played a vital role in my negotiation and conduct of interviews.

Finally, forty-six respondents were selected for interview. Of this number, twelve were Australian expatriates who are currently working as policy advisers or consultants in PNG; or who, having previously worked in PNG, have returned to Australia. Many of these Australians are employed by an aid agency such as AIDAB or IMF to advise the PNG government on educational development. Criteria for the selection of the interviewees were carefully considered. There were three main criteria: the need to obtain the widest possible range of opinions and ideological views; the need to ensure that interviews came from every level of educational administration; the need to have the views of people both within and outside PNG bureaucracy. The interviewees were selected from three different locations: those who worked in different levels (political, administrative, and community) of the decision-making structures in PNG; those Papua New Guineans with differing ideological backgrounds who are known to have influenced the nation's educational policy development; and those from outside PNG who have advised the PNG government on various aspects of educational development (see Appendix 6--Schema for the Selection of Key-players, and Appendix 7--List of Participants).

The Context and Conduct of Interviews

These recorded interviews were later transcribed and authenticated by the interviewees as had been agreed at the time of negotiating the terms upon which interviews were granted. The interviews conducted in "tok-pisin" were carefully translated into English and read to a "tok-pisin" speaker to ensure that it represented as accurately as possible the views of the interviewees in the villages. Not only was there a need to be ethical in the research processes, but there was also a need for me personally to ensure that I did not breach any confidences that the interviewees had granted me. The fact that I would be going back to Papua New Guinea to work with many of these interviewees played heavily on me as I sought to ensure that proper procedures were followed (see Appendix 8). In analysing the transcripts of the interviews, I did not intend to prove or to verify any existing theories or hypotheses. Instead, my aim was to generate a picture of the complexity of the issues surrounding the problems of devolution in PNG education. This proved to be a particularly difficult task, but eventually, I settled upon isolating a number of key common themes from the interview data collected.

The analysis of the interviews and documents suggested three main themes: the culture of the PNG bureaucracy and power relationships within PNG's system of educational governance; the issues of efficiency, effectiveness and equity in the distribution and utilisation of resources in the context of cultural diversity in PNG; and the impact of "western" ideas about education and administration on PNG's attempts to devolve educational governance. These three themes are discussed with the use of data collected in the next three chapters, and constituted both the findings of the research as well as their analyses.

These analyses show that PNG as an historical construction had not solved the central contradiction of its existence. That is, its attempts to maintain the nation's unity within the framework of regional cultural diversities has proved to be a central political dilemma that is not as remote from issues of educational governance as it might seem. The pressures to maintain PNG as a unified construct have meant the overturning of the traditional forms of governance, and the imposition of a western form of education. It also involved a re-definition of power relationships between the village communities and PNG as a state. The state has become increasingly dominant over traditional authority structures. This dominance is linked to the fact PNG has now become dependent on a western cash economy that has required the support of aid agencies and financial institutions for the development of the nation's human and physical resources such as capital, technology and manpower. However, while the aid donors have provided such resources, they also attached numerous conditions to their programs of aid. One of these conditions has involved dictating what these resources should be used for, and how they should be used. The aid donors have called for efficiency and effectiveness in the utilisation of these resources, which has in many ways, inhibited the democratic reforms in PNG educational governance, making them fit a particular mould of administrative and political thinking. In this way, it is possible to argue that the legacy of colonialism continues to have an impact on policy development in PNG education, though colonialism now appears in certain "new expressions". This idea of new expression in colonialism is thus an overriding theme that seeks to bind the various threads of the arguments presented in this thesis in order to make a theoretical sense of the data collected.

This chapter has demonstrated why a qualitative approach has been utilised, given the research questions which are the focus of this thesis. Within a qualitative approach, both unstructured, in-depth interviews and document analyses were utilised. The next chapter utilises these interviews and document analyses to consider the problems of bureaucratic culture for democratic reforms as manifested in PNG educational administration.

Copyright © 1999 Dr Gabriel Kulwaum
This is a reprint of Chapter 4 from "Problems of devolution in Papua New Guinea education"" a work in progress with the University of Papua New Guinea Press (NPNG) and is used with permission of copyright holder.

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