A Mahalla is one unit of a community which exists in Muslim societies, such as those in Central Asia. It consists of residents living along a few streets that are close geographically as well as emotionally. In a country such as Uzbekistan which is made up of many ethnic groups, the Mahalla plays an important but sometimes complicated role in the education of children and youth.
Dr Asuka Kawano is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Tsukuba in the Greater Tokyo Area of Japan.
From September 2006 to August 2008, Dr Kawano studied at the Tashkent State Pedagogical University in Uzbekistan, and undertook a research project to clarify the educational role of local communities (“Mahallas”) in Central Asia during the Post-Soviet period. More specifically, her aim was to understand the background and purpose of introducing Mahallas into the Uzbekistan school education system.
Dr Kawano interviewed over 120 people as part of her research, including representatives of Mahallas, residents of Mahallas, the Minister of Education and teachers at secondary schools in Uzbekistan. She did this using a semi-structured interview technique, asking them questions such as, “Do you participate in activities, events or festivals in your local community? How often do you participate in activities in your community? What images does the word “Community” conjour up?”
Dr Kawano also attended regional events and interviewed participants to find out more about their views on the Mahalla, as well as collecting videos, images, documents and voice recordings.
Finding relationships using NVivo
Having never worked with qualitative data analysis software before, using NVivo to analyze her research data was a new experience for Dr Kawano. She found it particularly useful in exploring the relationships in her data, such as those between residents in the Mahalla and those in the education system.
“NVivo was just the software I needed because I was able to compile various relationship diagrams based on the data I had collected in my files.
“Another advantage of NVivo is that it supports multiple languages. Because my research field is Central Asia, I have to accept Russian and Central Asian languages in addition to English, and NVivo supported me in this multiple language environment.”
Dr Kawano organized images, movies, voice recordings and documents as both ‘internals’ and ‘externals’ in NVivo. For data that could not be imported as internals, such as contracts relating to the cooperation between schools and the regional community, Dr Kawano scanned and converted them to PDFs, then linked them to her research project so that she could easily refer to them.
“I often utilized NVivo’s function to manage and highlight key words and important scenes. (I used the NVivo 7 English version at that time). When managing lots of images, I created image logs, and added coding and comments to them. These research results were used in my doctoral paper.”
Having coded her interview transcripts, Dr Kawano created nodes to store the emerging themes. Further analysis of these nodes allowed her to draw conclusions about the relationships between the groups involved in the project.
“One of the advantages of using NVivo’s queries and searches was the ability to simplify the process of sorting through data which would have been complex using paper.
“I searched cases by using text search queries, for example I searched for the words “Uzbek”, “Kirgiz”, “settled agricultural people”, “nomad”, “regional community activities of Kirgiz” and “educational role of regional community”, and looked into the relationship between regional community and ethnicity.”
Putting together a persuasive argument
Although Dr Kawano says she had many ideas, concepts, and predictions based on the information she collected from her research, NVivo helped her to be more focused when reviewing her results in order to put together a persuasive argument.
“By visualizing the relationships between data using NVivo, I was able to confirm my hypotheses, which included that the view of the regional community is different in each ethnicity, and this affects the recognition of the educational role of regional community and community activities. It also highlighted that there is ethnic difference in regional community activities in Central Asia."
However, it was the time saved using NVivo that really made a difference to Dr Kawano’s project.
“In tasks such as coding, transcribing tapes and creating common keywords, there was a huge difference in the processing time and efficiency between using NVivo and not using NVivo,” she explains.
“Previously, I had transcribed interviews in a ‘primitive’ way, pausing tapes and movies of interviews and event observations again and again.”
Dr Kawano’s research has revealed some interesting insights about the role of the Mahalla in Uzbekistan. From interviewing those involved and analyzing the data, it can be seen how the educational role of the Mahalla has been transformed, from its long-held role of mutual assistance (bringing up children and passing down traditional culture) to one of instilling in children the Mahalla policies promoted by the Uzbekistan government.
It has also thrown up a number of problems that will need to be addressed, such as the implications of the budget for the Mahalla governing committees, which is disbursed from the national budget, and how that affects the Mahalla’s ability to remain autonomous in providing educational activities that suit the needs of their region.
Such was the success of using NVivo in this project, Dr Kawano says she’d like to use the software for future research projects, particularly ones that are team-based.
“I would like to use NVivo for future joint research projects. For example, I plan to use this software for research into regional education in Central Asia."
“The advantage of using NVivo in team research is that it is possible for each team member to analyze different data sources and to check the consistency among coders by using the coding comparison query. It is also possible to keep track of updates by team members. As a result, members can grasp the status of the overall research process and can decide research direction and plan more easily. It makes it possible to have joint research with consistency and integration which reflects the opinion of each research member.”
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