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Education systems, aspiration and learning in remote rural settings


Project description

Through ethnographic research with young people in remote rural areas of Lesotho, India and Laos, this project has investigated the processes through which schooling shapes young people's aspirations, and how young people's aspirations shape their engagement with schooling and the learning they achieve.

Project report
 English  Hindi
 Aspiration report cover  Report cover - Hindi
Policy briefs
Rural children’s access to the content of education English Hindi Lao
The representation of occupations in school English Hindi Lao
The roles of rural teachers English Hindi Lao
Innovating in rural education English Hindi Lao


Although there have been major advances in school enrolment in the past two decades, the outcomes of education are often poor, especially among girls, young people from indigenous groups and ethnic minorities, those of lower socio-economic status and in remote rural areas. The World Bank and other globally influential agencies have recently been promoting the view that this is partly due to the limited aspirations of such children and their parents. There is certainly some evidence that disadvantaged groups have lower aspirations, and consequently achieve less in school.  

Yet paradoxically, there is also evidence that many youth from structurally disadvantaged groups have unattainably high aspirations, a situation that leads to disillusionment and large numbers of young people leaving school without the skills and knowledge to participate in rural livelihoods which they see as representing the failure of their aspirations.  

There are two key problems with much of the current academic and policy discourse concerning education and aspiration. First, the conceptualisation of aspiration is very narrow. Interventions aimed at 'raising aspiration' assume it is one-dimensional, yet aspirations may be more or less concrete, more or less stable; they are emotionally imbued and value laden and may relate to very different types of imagined future.  

Second, little is known of the processes through which school systems shape young people's aspirations, or of how young people's aspirations shape either their engagement with schooling or the learning they achieve. Aspiration is known to be produced in complex ways, in relation to broad-scale (even global) social and economic situations as well as family and community relationships. How these play out in schools requires further study.


To provide insight into how education systems can develop effective polices and interventions that work with young people's aspirations to enhance learning outcomes and address structural disadvantage in remote rural places.


1) To develop a robust understanding of the mechanisms that connect schooling, aspirations and learning outcomes.

2) To develop methods suitable for capturing and understanding these mechanisms.

Research questions

1) What roles do 21st century education systems play in shaping young people's aspirations in remote rural areas?  

2) How are the aspirations of young people living in remote rural areas produced in relation to both schooling and their wider social, economic and cultural contexts?  

3) How do young people's aspirations shape their educational engagement and learning outcomes?    


The research will be undertaken by a team of experienced investigators alongside three postdoctoral researchers. Fieldwork will be conducted in two schools and their local communities in remote rural areas of India, Laos and Lesotho.  

1) Desk research - analysis of academic literature, organisational reports and policy documents  

2) School-based ethnographic research including participatory group activities with students, lesson observation, discourse analysis of textbooks, curricula and exams, interviews with teachers and students  

3) Community-based ethnographic research including interviews / focus groups with parents, other family members, community leaders, young people in secondary education and young people no longer in education  

4) Interviews with stakeholders in the policy community

5) Policy-focused dissemination and feedback workshops, cascading up from school students, via local communities, to national and international level stakeholders

6) Design of a questionnaire, and piloting with 200 young people per country, to explore how the qualitative findings might be operationalised for quantitative research.

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