Have you as an enumerator, surveyor or researcher, had experience of being scolded by a teacher during fieldwork? Yes, I have.
The first time I joined the RCA, the word of ‘triangulation’ was confusing for me. Should we have conversation(s) with (at least) three people about one subject? What about if everybody has a different opinion? What kind of conclusion should I end up with? I tried to figure it out.
One morning in NTB, I was taking a bath behind the school. It was 7:30 am and seemed quiet for a school day. One or two students had turned up but the teacher arrived later. As I sat to observe, one teacher greeted me and we chatted about the school – “what are they all doing today, Pak?” “Today a Maths class, Bahasa class, Natural Science class, and… what else?” He asked another teacher who was sitting in front of the teacher’s office, as the students continues playing in the field.
Then I went back ‘home’ and asked my ‘mom’ what the kids are doing at school. “They’re playing football. The teacher just teaches them how to play football all day!” I nodded. Later, her son came home, “hey, what did you do at school?” he said, “nothing.”
How could I understand the situation if teacher, parent, or student said something different?
But RCA requires only that everyone’s voice is valued. Validity comes from observation, not just conversation. Not only what we hear, but also what we see, and what we experience.
On another RCA study, I talked with a male teacher and the school seemed great! Then at night, I chatted with the students. They shared stories about how cruel the teacher can be. It was a horrible story!
Next morning I went to school and the students welcomed me into the class because they already knew who I was. While we talked about the red guava that we picked in the morning before school, THAT male teacher came in and hit the table with a rattan stick!
He scolded us because we were noisy and threatened to hit us if we made any sound! It was a horrible experience which lasted for 5 minutes. As soon as he has left the class all the kids were giggling (not affected by what he had said). I remained shocked. Then the teacher returned (again!) to explain why the students had to be punished and how he had not seen me there before.
After that happened, everyone (students, parents, and teachers) felt able to talk about punishment at school (because they knew I had experienced it for myself). Even then everybody has a different opinion about punishment, but I started to understand what triangulation really means.
Triangulation through the RCA is fun. We need to recognize that people can be honest, critical, beating about the bush, offensive, using the ‘mask’ of official status or fantasizing their stories. But being aware of the need for careful triangulation, we are still able to discover what REALLY happened in the community.