"Finding a Voice" The experience of mature students in a college of further education
Hardiman, Fergal (2011) "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.
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