"Everybody knows by hearing but not by seeing": Exploring the use of photovoice to document challenges of some inter-provincial students at the University of Danang, Vietnam
This research employed a Participatory Action Research methodology to work with minority inter-provincial students and unearth their lived experiences at the University of Danang in Vietnam. It focused on examining the undervaluation of inter-provincial students’ voices in the university’s policies – and to a wider extent, in most Vietnamese universities – by facilitating a process in which their challenges and ideas for change at university could be heard. This research also sought to observe and analyse the influences of power dynamics within a Confucian-heritaged context on the participatory research process itself. Vietnam is believed to be a society in which hierarchical power takes its deepest roots due to the effects of Confucianism. By using Participatory Action Research with a variety of methods – photovoice, diagraming, group discussion, interviewing and exhibition – I sought to facilitate student voices and document some of the potential and constraints of the methodology within this cultural context. The research involved eleven student participants and ten teacher participants over a period of six weeks. Data was collectively analysed and shared by student participants with invited teachers through an exhibition at the University of Danang. Throughout the process, I took extensive field notes of my observations and interactions with participants. Data analysis was then written and presented in this thesis based on what participants had provided. Key themes that this thesis explores are: (1) challenges that faced inter-provincial students, (2) the impact of Confucius hierarchical power on participants’ involvement and ownership in the research and (3) the role of language and emotion when undertaking Participatory Action Research in such a context. The process generated clear evidence of the common challenges facing interprovincial students associated with limited finances, mentality/spirituality, and poor living conditions. From analysis of these challenges, the research provides recommendations for teachers, university administrators and policy-makers. These recommendations promote a more holistic pedagogy that better encourages students to develop themselves throughout their time at university. The thesis also concludes that the use of Participatory Action Research within higher education settings in Vietnam can serve as a research model for the betterment of disadvantaged minority students. It could help minimise the effects of neoliberalism on the country’s higher education sector and foster better development outcomes for students and their home provinces.