Marta zientek's paper for esrea network 24 26 november 2011 in aveiro, portugal
Researching on transitions in life courses among women-adult learners. A biographical approach.Marta ZientekJagiellonian University and Cracow University of Economics "Peoples life stories were often more interesting than they were themselves." Iosip Brodsky, winner of the Nobel Prize for LiteratureINTRODUCTION In my paper I’m concentrating on the results of my research on transitionswhich was made among women-adult learners during different educational coursesthey decided to take in the academic year 2009/2010. This research can be treatedas a mirror which shows the discrepancy between how people are willing to presentthemselves and what is actually inside them. I think that analysis of ones own lifeand the history of ones own family in the learning process stimulate self-development and make it possible to shape the relationship between adult learnersand their surroundings harmoniously, to identify certain inner resources, and therebyto sketch out markers and prospects for further sensible development. In myresearch report life stories are described as the evidence of narrators’ development,governed by the interplay of specific factors such as nationality, gender, environment,language or dialect, etc. My research presents also the proof that person’s paththrough life is influenced equally by such parameters as personal factors: sense ofbelonging, place of origin, individual life plans and finally by external ones: chanceoccurrences, divorce, losing job or retirement. Work on these "elements" of individualhuman lives in the framework of educational programmes makes it easier tounderstand the story of human life as a whole. The interplay and interaction betweenthese factors (including nationality and gender), both when they agree and when theyconflict with one other, "carry" people through their life courses so it is easier them tospeak and present the influence of their decisions, actions and attitudes to thelistener / researcher. Giving strict data in a form of storytelling during the interviewmeans creating a construct, a particular structure that exists in people’sconsciousness. A single element of a life story is an event, which is defined byhaving a be-ginning and an end. Apart from the essential elements (events) of myresearch, a life story also contains a variety of transitions, bridges, precipices,unseen mismatches, obstacles and "accelerators". Because of these "auxiliaryelements", a life story does not break down into individual fragments, but ratherdetermines the overall direction of life. Basing educational work with adults on thebiographical method therefore represents the creation of mental constructs, thestructure of which becomes apparent in the present in the context of situationsactually experienced in the past. The biographical method, presented in my study, isunderpinned by memories, the repetition in thought of events, of episodes whichhave remained in the memory of the narratives.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND Without any doubt, learning process is treated by contemporary researchers asan integral part of human nature, a value in itself, essential for peoples happinessand fulfillment, vital for developing and maintaining the full capacities of peoplessenses and intellect beyond the scope and age of their economical activity, neededfor their alert interest in what is happening with them and their surroundings, for theirconcern and commitment for the welfare of themselves as well as that of theirneighbours, for their participation in the management of their neighbourhoods, theircommunities, their countries and that of the entire world, in essence for activecitizenship and democracy. Nowadays, an increasing proportion of adults, mainlywomen have been returning to colleges or universities. Some want an additionaldegree to move up a career ladder or seek training to perform their present job morebetter. Some decide to attend university to feel prepared to changes during theirworking life stories by moving to different professions. More and more women, whilebeing pensioners, are taking courses to fill leisure time and to feel its non-wasted bydaily routine and housing. Others need to learn about subjects they’ve always findchallenging but they’ve no time as they were younger. They just want to expend theirknowledge in special interests areas such as photography or sculpturing and art tobe active, up-to-date and still feel modern in thinking. Women-professionals in somerapidly growing fields such as IT, computer science, medicine, law or teaching needto keep up with new developments. Social work practitioners often take workshops orcontinuing education courses to keep abreast of new treatment techniques, newprograms and changes in social welfare policy. In our modern, complex society it’sobvious and essential that learning continuous throughout human’s life span.Women-learners try to find their common space for sharing their own workingknowledge, social experience and finally they help themselves by working out theirpossible, future life-courses with clearly defined directions to follow. It is well knownthat many older learners in various educational programmes, courses and workshopsfind the main, almost the essential, value of them to be the opportunity "to talk topeople like me", "to communicate with people who understand you", "to sharememories with someone". It has been seen that we all have favourite stories aboutourselves, which can be told repeatedly with visible pleasure, without their losingtheir attraction or novelty, topicality or meaning for the narrator. At the same time, theidentical event is never recounted in exactly the same way: intuitively, the author andnarrator chooses the style, way of speaking and speed; and the necessary detailsand even the nature of the text chosen depend on the specific circumstances (oftoday). When older people speak, the narrative motive may be a declaration, ameans of self-presentation, but frequently it may also be the reason behind a choiceor decision in real life. This means that it may be a brake or a saying that "shut off"new opportunities and prospects at some stage of our lives.
That’s the aim of learning process during the life course. As such, it is perceived byobservers as permanent and continuous, what’s more, it’s realised in an articulatedmanner by all the participants who are involved in every moment of it, finally includingevery participant’s narrative life story in a concrete, tamed space of life.RESEARCH This research data below uses narratives of development and transition ofadult women who struggle with such issues. They demonstrate the real-life processof developmental change that comes about for them while hoping to change theirprivate lives or move into professional ranks in employment. These women areconscious of being derived from case studies of women in diverse socioeconomicstrata in middle and later adulthood. Their stories of emotional challenges andcognitive-inform attitudes help our understanding of the process of learning for manyadults. Here are some examples:Marta, (68) “My parents were traditional. My dads role was to be the breadwinnerand my mother stayed at home and took care of five children. Both had finished highschool and my dad did two years of college. He worked his whole life (…).He rosethrough the ranks to be a vice president and retired at age sixty-five. My mother tooka part-time job after the kids left home. All five children finished high school and mytwo brothers went on to college. My sisters and I attended junior college and marriedin our early twenties. I’ve never had the opportunity to start academic educationbefore because of taking the role of housewife. Now, after being divorced, thanks tomy children, I have a great opportunity to gain knowledge of professionalphotography at the University of Third Year. I’m fulfilled as a human being at least.”Krystyna, (62)“ I do not reject the typical state of life circle as marriage but now I seeit had also negative influence on me and my friends life. We didn’t consider lifelonglearning or education for pleasure and, what’s more, self-development wasn’t souseful earlier (...) Partly a matter of feeling old, partly because few of our friends wereemployed, partly because of the conservatism of our husbands, and largely becausemost of us were mentally dependent, the great majority, I think, continued to livewithin the homemaker role. Now we – five girlfriends from primary school – decide ofour educational path, being involved in social worker training. We want to workamong children, starting in 2012.”Beata, (70) “Life is like playing a violin alone on a stage and learning to play theinstrument while youre doing it; when you’re young you do not think about thepassing time and all these lost opportunities you had while playing, you just want tocome back home after school home and need to get a profession to earn living;you’re accustomed (...) Having a job and family you’re so tired and finally the aim ofeducation is getting away your thoughts. Now, being alone after the death of myhusband, (…), I can be here and study cosmetology. (…) This group is my newfamily. We are together in everything and we will move through this transition (ofeducation) together! I’m not alone on a stage of my life circle”
Jadwiga (65) “My children have just settled down and they do not have so much timefor me now. So I realised it’s the right moment to do something else, finally to grow!It’s the time to learn what I love since I was seven – taking care of plants andgardening. I attend this workshop to be prepared to start my studies at plants as anexample of tool to modeling interior architecture of modern houses (…) Next month Ihope to get certificate and I’m ready to start my working career as a floral designer. “Barbara, (55), “(…) I needed some advice in the master of arts program in humandevelopment/gerontology. The conflict for me started two years ago and was not thatI felt my life was over, or that I was limited by gender in my struggle to have a career;rather, it was the need to pursue an advanced degree and earn a livingsimultaneously. With two children in college and another finishing high school, I didnot have the luxury of finding myself."Women learners are often self-observant about their process of differentiation withinthe classroom community. They experience some confusion while getting a greatdeal of energy to learn something new. This situation sets a high goals forthemselves and require affirmative feedback for their instructors. Connecting inlearning settings and building trust and confidence of training staff seem to be crucialfor older adult women-learners. Discussions, group projects, dialogical classroominteractions offer a framework for bonding and support:Teresa, (56) “ I have learned more about myself during this term than earlier in mywhole life. I know what learning potential I have and which parts of knowledge iseasier for me to grab.”Maryla, (59), “Last winter our group strategies class really bonded, I mean, it’s theway we tug on each other (...) and now we’ve had two other classes with thesepeople. We trust each other and support our private initiatives and try to solveproblems (…)We finally built cohesive networks”Petronela, (67), “We, women-learners, are cooperative groups, more thanindividuals, common sense of participation, we have robust personal networks whichindicators include high levels of trust and believes.”Maria, (70), “ (…) being a student I didn’t realize the fact that I will be seventy-one inNovember, I think that I’m at the cusp of acceptance but I still have some way to gobefore I can bask in the confidence of being a mature woman. I’m confident,however, my age is working for me! I feel like a teenager being in our learning group.I’m in the right track of my life!”Anna, (64), “ Having thoroughly enjoyed my teaching profession for thirty-two years, Iwas surprised of the intensity of transition that I was called upon to undergo duringlast three years of workshops and trainings in my life. I was being called to newunderstand of self-identity, divested of the role I had exercised well. I was pushed toredefine myself, as person, rather than as teacher. I did not like the feelings ofvulnerability, powerlessness and confusion which overtaken this whole process oftransformation.”