"Finding a Voice"
The experience of mature students in a college of further education.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This study explores the experience of mature students in a Further Education college
in Ireland. It looks at the development of the further education sector and its current
role in Irish education. Further education is a major provider of education for adults as
more than half the students in further education are now mature students. The system
grew largely within the Vocational Education system and, it is suggested, has adopted
many of the neo-liberal ideas and practices prevalent in society more generally.
The first research element was a survey and focus group, followed by nine qualitative
interviews which explored with the students their reasons for returning to education,
their experience while in further education and what they consider to be the benefits of
participation. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach the data were
generated and analysed through a systematic process of coding, categorisation and the
development of core concepts grounded in the students’ lived experience. Three
significant concepts emerged from the analysis. The first concept of ‘The latent self’
describes the range of social, personal, structural and biographical influences and
discusses how they interact and impact on the decision to return to education. The
second concept, ‘The Emerging Self’ describes the negotiation of challenges faced by
the students in the process of change. The third concept, ‘The Revised Self’, describes
the changed self emphatically described by the students as resulting from their
participation and characterised by greatly enhanced confidence and agency.
The conceptual label ‘Finding a voice’ was used to describe this ‘Revised Self’ as
many of the participants spoke in terms of feeling able to speak and having things to
say. It encompasses willingness and a sense of entitlement to participate and engage
with others and a sense of having something to contribute.
The findings demonstrate that further education is a site of significant learning for
adults. Although the purpose of the further education sector is to provide students with
the skills needed in the workplace and many students came for vocational reasons, the
actual learning went beyond the instrumental and resulted in many surprising benefits
to the students and to society more generally.
||mature students; further education;
||Social Sciences > Education
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