Here’s my story: Mature students’ narratives of Further Education

Paula Dunne

Abstract


Public policy in Ireland continues to encourage increasing participation by non-traditional learners in Further and Higher Education.  Mature students account for 50% of the Further Education (FE) population and while their experiences are well studied in Higher Education (HE) there is surprising little work on FE. This study sets out to hear and understand the narratives of mature students’ experiences in FE and how they make sense of them.

For this study, five mature students at an FE college in the North East of Ireland participated in a small-scale narrative inquiry.  The interviews focused on the participants’ telling and understanding of their experiences of returning to study in FE.  The findings suggest that the participants found their time in FE to be a very positive experience which provided them with a valuable qualification and a possibility of progressing to HE.  They also recounted the many challenges encountered in returning to education including: low academic confidence, poor self-esteem, time management and finances.   The participants understood that support from FE staff, family members and peers was crucial in helping to overcome the obstacles encountered. The findings also illustrate the students’ pride in their academic achievements and a resulting new-found confidence.

It is concluded that, despite many challenges encountered and overcome, the participants viewed their experiences in FE to be very positive and having ‘dipped their toes in the water’, their experiences have led them to embrace lifelong learning and contemplate progressing to HE.


Keywords


further education, mature students, narrative

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