Farhana Choudhury – Undergraduate Award Global Winner 2017

Written by Ellen Logan

SEED is proud to announce that student Farhana Choudhury (top right in photo below) was recently named the Global Winner for Education at the Undergraduate Awards (UA) Global Summit 2017.IMG_4640

This prestigious award recognises excellent undergraduate research from all disciplines around the world, bringing students together to commend their work and share it with a global audience.

Farhana graduated with a First-Class Honours in English Language for Education this summer from SEED’s Manchester Institute of Education of Manchester (MIE), and is now undertaking a Masters in the Psychology of Education (also MIE). Synthesising her interests, Farhana is hoping to look at the motivations of minority ethnic students when applying to/attending a red brick university, as well as their self-efficacy.

Outside of high-achieving academia, Farhana is in the process of working on a widening access programme with the central Widening Participation team at the university, focused on raising aspirations amongst students from widening participation backgrounds. Farhana also acts as a mentor for Mosaic in her home-town, Oldham, where she works with young people from socially deprived areas. Currently she is working with girls in year five and has weekly sessions with them, in which they focus on aspiration, confidence and communication skills. The young girls mother’s also attend these sessions, which Farhana highlighted as invaluable as they get to see the importance of education too.

The research

Farhana’s award-winning research was a literature review looking at educational inequality, specifically: A discussion of literacy as a vehicle which enables women from urban Afghanistan and rural Nepal to overcome societal challenges and participate in society.

Farhana looked at the main barriers these women face in society and how literacy is being used to overcome them. In Afghanistan a ban was placed on female education by the Taliban – a direct attack on women’s status in society and a policy that resulted in high rates of illiteracy. In response, women set up secret schools underground and in the homes of women, offering a basic rate of literacy and numeracy for females. Once the Taliban were overthrown, women were able to reclaim their rights and access education; following this there was a significant increase in female voting participation, further empowering women and moving the country forward.

In Nepal women face issues of social hierarchy; there is a caste system with the Dalits (‘untouchables’) being placed at the bottom. As a result of this, many women from Dalit communities are prohibited from education, as well as being discriminated against at every level of society. Another hindrance to education is the practice of Chaupadi Pratha – the isolation of women during the menstrual cycle. This forced isolation prevents females from accessing education and many girls are expelled from school for being ‘impure’. This specific practice impacts women all social backgrounds. To overcome this, a ‘sustainable literacy programme’ was introduced by the Nepalese government. This is a practical approach to education, providing literacy classes that use material relevant to the daily lives of those learning. To tackle additional discriminatory customs, such as those faced by the Dalits, the government has also given disadvantaged groups priority access.

Farhana’s research highlights the importance of access to education and literacy programmes to help women overcome societal issues and discrimination, and obtain the agency required to become socially and economically empowered.

The award

With over 6,500 submissions to the 25 categories, Farhana’s research was chosen as the Global Winner for Education and she had an all-expenses paid trip to Dublin to attend the UA Global Summit this summer.

The three-day event was held in Dublin, with the final awards ceremony being held at Farmleigh House in Dublin, the official Irish State guest house. This was where Farhana received her award, as well as the other Global Winners, Regional Winners and Highly Commended.

On the first day the students enjoyed a formal dinner, with speakers and the organisers emphasising the prestige of the award and further congratulating the students on their achievements.

During the second day the winners had the option to present their papers to their peers in a three-minute presentation. Farhana received a lot of interest and questions about her presentation, and she felt the whole experience really highlighted the value of research and further motivated her to continue within academia.

The final day was jammed-packed with speakers and breakout sessions, giving the attendees the opportunity to listen to inspirational orators, as well as engaging in topical discussions. The evening was the official award ceremony.

According to Farhana, each year the award ceremony has a central theme linked to ground-breaking research. This year’s focus was a piece of research undertaken by Thomas Clarkson, a student at the University of Cambridge during the slave trade era. Clarkson was asked to write an essay looking at: Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?. Clarkson’s research was submitted it into a competition, where it received much interest and sparked a debate over the abolition of the slave trade (at a time where the University of Cambridge received extensive funding from slave owners). The awards were in honour of Clarkson, demonstrating the influence research can have on the world.

The main addresses were from Chris Lubbe, former bodyguard to Nelson Mandela, and Zerbanoo Gifford, a writer and human rights activist. Lubbe spoke about his experience of apartheid and the duty the international community has to work together for social cohesion and justice, and how education is central to achieving this. Gifford also spoke about the importance of education and social change, but said something that really resonated with Farhana: “You have to live with an open heart. Help people, keep helping people and don’t get tired of doing this.”

Farhana came away from the event with an even greater understanding of the importance of critical thinking and the impact and value of research. She is motivated to change the world for the better, and use her research and education to do this.


SEED Teaching Matters, RECLAIM and how to enhance attainment, wellbeing and retention of working class students

By Ellen Logan (Ellen.logan@manchester.ac.uk)

As part of SEED’s Teaching Matters  seminar series, in November we welcomed RECLAIM to share with us the experiences of working class students to consider how the university can work to improve the attainment, wellbeing and retention of working class students.

Terry Mayeh from RECLAIM, discussed how to improve the support from Universities for working class students.

Led by Terry Mayeh (pictured above), from youth leadership and social change organisation RECLAIM, the discussion centred on the types of barriers working class students face during their time at university, with an emphasis on ‘imposter syndrome’ and the lacking of sufficient support and structures.

In 2016 RECLAIM conducted research into the experiences of working class students across a number of universities. This research was used to set up the groundbreaking, student-led programme Educating All. Working in collaboration with universities, Educating All creates bespoke, student-centred solutions/recommendations to address the barriers working class students experience in higher education.

Terry said:

“We often assume students know what support is offered, where to find it, and have the confidence to ask for it. Spaces must be created to allow students to open up about the challenges they face: but too often decisions are made without consulting the very people they affect.

A lack of entitlement, sometimes described as ‘imposter syndrome’, coupled with limited knowledge and understanding of higher education institutions and processes can damage the performance and retention of students, and prevent them seeking support.

Educating All is built from the resilience working-class students are forced to develop. Through our programmes, led, designed and delivered by working-class young people; we create authentic solutions, based on our lived experiences to improve the recruitment, retention, attainment, and well-being of working-class students.

Everything starts by listening, usually in informal conversations in which participants are encouraged to explore the barriers and challenges they have faced. This is then used to develop solutions which can range from establishing alumni and peer support schemes, mentors, tailored inductions to implementing specific financial and academic support to match the unique needs of the students.”

With both academics and self-identified working class students in attendance, there was some very open and interesting discussion. The students spoke about ‘imposter syndrome’ and confidence; they frequently don’t feel confident in speaking out in lectures and seminars, or questioning areas they don’t understand, in – what they feel – contrast to their peers. They also said that they feel there is an academic language barrier, which is exacerbated by issues with confidence.

Some of the academic staff in the seminar asked the two students exactly how they think university staff can best support these students. For academic staff, they said, student backgrounds are generally anonymous and so they will only know a student’s specific circumstances if said student self-identifies. This does mean more of the onus is on the student to approach a member of staff.

The students made the point that as working class students are often unaware of the structures in place to support them, universities need to take this into consideration and implement measures to ensure all students know the support available to them. To encourage student’s approaching staff, one of the students suggested that staff provide all students with examples of the sorts of issues they can approach them with, such as difficulties with the language used in lectures, financial problems, problems with balancing care work/studies/part-time jobs etc.

The seminar made it clear that there is a long way to go, but having open and honest conversations is definitely a good start.

For further information about Educating All programme, please contact t.manyeh@reclaimproject.org.uk.

If you are interested in delivering a seminar for SEED’s Teaching Matters series, please contact Drew Whitworth and/or Jen O’Brien (drew.whitworth@manchester.ac.uk; Jennifer.obrien@manchester.ac.uk)