Living the neoliberal global schooling project: an ethnography of childhood and everyday choices in Nepal
Baxter, Katherine Dickson
This research draws upon interdisciplinary studies of childhood and young people’s agency to present an ethnographic account of one group of young people in Nepal’s lived experience of ‘the global schooling project’, a term used to describe the series of policy initiatives and the complex landscape of actors and institutions furthering the aim of getting every child, everywhere into school. Based on five months of fieldwork in which I intimately embedded myself in the everyday lives and social, emotional worlds of a group of young people living on Mansawar Street in Pokhara, I show how the global schooling project and its values impact upon their childhoods and everyday choices, shaping their aspirations, daily routines and self-conceptions, and those of their families and communities. I bring attention to how these flattening policy initiatives can have the effect of marginalising many of these young people’s unique talents, interest and competencies, not accounting for the diversity of their learning and their agencies in moving through and making sense of their everyday material and immaterial worlds. I emphasise how schooling can act as an ambiguous resource for these young people, not only providing opportunity, knowledge and pathways towards employment, but also drawing them into systems of inequality and exploitation, both inside and outside of school. This research, then, provides an account of the lived experience of schooling on Mansawar Street and the profound ways in which schooling shapes local economies and ecologies, transforming family and community relationships and young people’s childhoods.