It is truly special when a PhD project aims to provide knowledge that will benefit those who experience social inequality. This is crux of why UNE PhD candidate Prashneel Ravisan Goundar is researching the nature and extent of educational inequalities and social injustice in relation to English language skills across Fiji.
Both Prashneel’s passionate outlook and excitement for his PhD research can be summaries by his own words: “I think the whole journey is full of excitement, frustration, surprises but above all” it’s been “a beautiful learning experience.”
Prashneel is from the beautiful and sunny Fiji Islands, although his current research and studies has brought him to study remotely with UNE. Prashneel has led an impressive study journey that saw him complete a Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language and teaching Linguistics at Fiji National University in Lautoka, Fiji.
“As an academic, I published numerous research papers from my Masters research and continued to update my academic qualifications. In 2019, I approached several universities in Australia, New Zealand and the Europe with my research intent.” In late 2019 Prashneel heard back from Associate Professor Finex Ndhlovu at UNE and after some project tweaks he commenced his PhD studies in July 2020 “with an amazing supervision team at UNE consisting of the Principal Supervisor Associate Professor Finex and Co-supervisor Dr. Arvind Iyengar.”
Before discussing Prashneel’s research further, it is first important to understand the context of the topic.
“Due to the colonial history of Fiji, English became the lingua franca among the various ethnolinguistic groups in the country. Today, English is the sole medium of instruction at all Fijian tertiary education institutions. This results in a sociocultural problem when students enter universities in Fiji from different high school backgrounds. Depending on the school, students may acquire different levels of English abilities.” Prashneel noted that this raises a flag regarding the inequalities experienced by certain students.
“A few years back, the leaders in Fiji had commented that the level of English of university graduates was declining. There was no evidence linked to these comments but I saw a whole area to explore here. I began reading about the field of language testing and decided to look at students’ academic English writing skills. I actually like writing and have been writing creative pieces for the local newspapers apart from research papers; so my heart was already in this direction.”
Not only does this project have a sense of social justice at its centre, but Prashneel is also passionate about the field. With the project beginning last year, Prashneel has plenty of work ahead of him, but the benefits of his research and his interest in the field are strong motivators.
“The outcomes of this research will be significant in the field of language testing,” said Prashneel when discussing some of the specific benefits his PhD project will have. “The methodological contributions and the unique data set of the study will advance scholarly and social policy conversations on this topic. The study hopes to make an original contribution to the body of knowledge on how grounded theory research methodologies can be applied to a longitudinal language testing research context. This has the potential to contribute a new approach to the way language testing research is conducted.”
Although he is excited and passionate about this research Prashneel does note that he has had some fantastic support in his studies, describing being awarded UNE’s RTP International Scholarship in May 2021 as a highlight of his study journey so far.
“Earlier this year my Principal Supervisor Associate Professor Finex informed me of the scholarship and backed my application with a strong supporting letter. The co-supervisor of my research project, Dr Arvind at UNE and my colleague Ms Lia Bogitini from Fiji National University provided strong references which I believe assisted in this achievement. Since July 2020, I had been funding my studies personally but with the RTP Scholarship; they have already commenced payments which is a huge relief for me.”
“It’s been a unique personal journey to have commenced my studies last year as I lost my mother to cancer in January 2020. She was only 56 years old. However, my father was instrumental in encouraging me to pursue a higher degree research. He has been a huge support with the loudest cheer when I was awarded UNE’s RTP International Scholarship.”
“Also, I have only been able to accomplish so much with a year of enrollment because of the support provided by UNE. The supervision team, Professor Finex and Dr Arvind have been amazing. They are very caring individuals and I often turn to them for advice on various matter especially Dr Arvind who guides me on matters relating to my career.”
“I am extremely thankful to the HDR Team for being so attentive and prompt with all my queries especially Michael Hoult, Jonathan Watson, Elizabeth Sozou, Jane Michie and the DVCR. A special mention to the HASS-HDR Coordinator Dr Ariella Luyn for being so helpful in the study journey so far.”
So what will come next for Prashneel once he has completed this project? Well he already has some ideas:
“I do have two major plans. I would like to either convert my thesis into a book or publish several papers from it, hopefully with my supervisors. Another plan is to apply for a post-doctoral position in the Asia Pacific region. I believe that my research in the field of language testing will be relevant for this region and I will have a lot to offer.”