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Expanding horizons?: Lifelong learning and older women

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Presentation on theme: "Expanding horizons?: Lifelong learning and older women"— Presentation transcript:

1 Expanding horizons?: Lifelong learning and older women

2 Expanding horizons … Dr Sue Jackson
Director of Birkbeck Institute for Lifelong Learning Senior Lecturer in Lifelong Learning and Citizenship Head of School of Continuing Education Birkbeck, University of London London, UK

3 Outline: About BILL Key issues in considering learning for older women
About the research The women in the research Learning, community and citizenship: expanding horizons? Moving on Conclusions

4 The research of the Institute is located in four main areas of research, and pedagogies of lifelong learning form part of each of these areas: citizenship, community development and community-based learning lifelong learning and the lifecourse social justice, equality and diversity in-situ and ex-situ interpretation and learning (for example museums and heritage sites)

5 BILL aims to: develop and sustain research into lifelong learning
provide a research base for academics, policy makers and practitioners working in lifelong learning promote research excellence develop collaborative research work with individuals, research centres and other institutions publish and disseminate results of research activities to academics and policy makers provide programmes of seminars, colloquia and conferences to develop scholarly exchange.

6 Lifelong learning and older women

7 Key issues 1 In around 25 years, half the population will be over 50
Two out of three of those aged 50 or over left school at 15 or earlier This is especially true for women, working-class people and minority ethnic groups Urban / rural divide Lifelong learning is essential for older women The less you have had the less you are likely to have ‘If at first you don’t succeed, you don’t succeed’

8 Key issues 2 Women are less likely than men to:
have received workplace learning received an apprenticeship hold educational qualifications have an occupational pension

9 Key issues 3 Women are more likely than men to be poor live alone
live longer

10 Key issue 4 People who engage in lifelong learning are more likely to:
- be active citizens - engage in volunteering - enjoy better intergenerational relationships - enjoy better social networks - enjoy better physical health - enjoy better mental wellbeing Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning:

11 Background to the research

12 National Federation of Women’s Institutes
The National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) is the largest organisation for women in the UK with 215,000 members in England, Wales and the Islands.

13 Mission The WI exists to educate women to enable them to provide an effective role in the community, to expand their horizons and to develop and pass on important skills.

14 Denman College

15 Project aims: i) the impact of and implications for lifelong learning in constructions of older women’s identities; ii) (older) women’s engagement as active citizens; iii) the relationship between civic engagement and lifelong learning; and iv)women’s lifelong learning and active citizenship in and through family lives, networks and voluntary work.

16 Objectives: increase knowledge of the extent and type of participation in lifelong learning and in active citizenship by older women; increase understandings of the motivation for, attitudes towards and benefits of participation in lifelong learning and in active participation for older women; offer direction for planning to meet the needs of older learners and their communities by identifying and characterizing positive and negative aspects of participation with regard to social, human, cultural, identity and material capitals; increase knowledge of how learning and community involvement is affected by gender, social class and age, and show how involvement changes and evolves during the life course; increase understandings of how gendered identities develop and change at community, regional and national levels.

17 The 5 Federations in the project:
The largest Federation, with 248 institutes and 9500 members. It covers a large geographical area from the industrial south east to the rural villages of the region. Large geographical area, sparsely populated and mainly consisting of rural farmlands and market towns. It has a total of 101 institutes. The smallest Federation, with 33 institutes. It covers a largely urban area, including institutes in socially and ethnically diverse communities in on the outskirts of a large city. With its headquarters in a city centre, and also including socially and ethnically diverse communities, the fourth Federation has 45 institutes in industrial towns as well as in a range of villages. The fifth Federation has 95 institutes with 4000 members. It covers a diverse geographical area, from a major city to the Welsh valleys.

18 Results – Exploring ‘horizons’
Participation and benefits of lifelong learning for older women The impact of and implications for lifelong learning in the construction of older women’s identities ‘Older’ women’s engagement as active citizens

19 About the women

20 Participation in and benefits of lifelong learning for older women

21 Expanding horizons through learning
“I think (lifelong learning) is actually more important …. The speed of changes in community, society, technology, these are all having an impact on individuals and families and I think it’s crucial that people keep up to date because if they don’t they would be out of step with society. Also I think … to keep people engaged in society, to keep people engaged with other people, learning brings people together … I think that it’s absolutely crucial. What worries me now is that funding has been cut for a lot of these lifelong learning opportunities locally … So I think in the future it is going to be very much down to community groups and voluntary organisations ..”.

22 Activities taking place
Monthly WI meetings Invited speakers Practical demonstrations WI Visits Denman College Campaigns

23 Traditional skills

24 The impact of and implications for lifelong learning in constructions of older women’s identities

25 Increasing Confidence
‘I feel safe here … It’s a safe place to come on one’s own’ ‘I would come on my own, I feel very comfortable, because once you get here you are not feeling alone at all’. ‘It’s a non-threatening situation’ ‘We have had members here (who had) never been away from home on their own before’. ‘It’s so confidence building …’. ‘This is an enormous place for building your confidence in lots of ways’.

26 Following husbands … “Suddenly my husband got relocated to a new area … Suddenly my life was totally different … it was a bit lonely … but then I got to know someone who belonged to the WI and now it’s terribly busy”. “My husband was transferred to (overseas). We spent 10 years living abroad and decided that our children were becoming too (foreign) … We moved (back) … and my neighbour encouraged me to join the .. WI”. “I had spent time abroad with my husband in a different country so I was away … I actually liked going out there and meeting other ladies, English ladies – who were married to (foreigners). So … when we came back … I thought ‘I do actually miss the interaction of being with other females’”.

27 Benefits of lifelong learning at times of transition
‘After the death of my husband I don’t know where I would be if it hadn’t been for the support from the WI’ ‘when you are newly widowed … you feel certainly vulnerable’. (The WI is) ‘a good thing and it is a good place to start doing things’ ‘(A new member) ‘has been widowed within the previous year and it is the first time she has gone anywhere without her husband …’ “ … I thought if ever I am left on my own I am going to be literally on my own. I was wanting to plan some contingency, so if I was on my own I would have something to fall back on’

28 Considering ‘difference’?
‘you realize that the human race is not quite so terrifying - you know - speaking to a stranger of your own sort of calibre’ ‘I joined to get to know kindred spirits’ ‘I joined for the company of like minded people’

29 ‘Race’ and ethnicity … “I think we are probably more open minded (than WIs in rural area)… For example, we have an Asian lady that comes and she educated us to their way of life … We did think of setting up a WI in an Asian community, but because of the way they work men control the money side of it and they would want the right to come … We are thinking that perhaps now, because there is another generation that it’s more, that it has picked up more about our ways, that perhaps we can now go and have a WI”. “I did … make an appointment to see the then Lord Mayor of ….., who was a Jamaican and a woman, and I implored her to help me set up some ethnic WIs but I wasn’t successful … We did try very hard to set up some WIs within the Asian community … and we couldn’t because the men wanted to control the purse strings and to dominate. And of course the WI can’t do that”.

30 Social class … Focus group 1:
Researcher: “If I said that the WI is traditionally made up of middle-class women, what might be your view?” Respondent 1: “I think it’s right!” Respondent 2: “It’s not that others are excluded, it’s just that they don’t join us” Respondent 3: “I think people have different values. We are people with similar values and expectations …”

31 Focus group 2: Respondent: “I think there is a class distinction. I really do” Interviewer: “There is?” Respondent: “I think so. If I was poor and needy … I think the WI would benefit you but you wouldn’t benefit the WI because they couldn’t cope with this” Interviewer: “Explain a little more” Respondent: “… They couldn’t cope with the way we do things, the structure… In that regards there is a class distinction … because … the lower down the scale you are the less intellectual you are … They wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to us”

32 Focus group 3: Interviewer: “And how would you describe your social class?” Respondent: “I don’t like this sort of class business. I am certainly not upper class, and middle class, … things get distorted … For working class, it’s usually, as I understood it, it’s the lower class, and I don’t consider I am lower class” Focus group 4: Interviewer: “Do you feel class is an issue? Should it be an issue?” Respondent 1: “I don’t think it should” Respondent 2: “I must say I was rather surprised to see the question (on the questionnaire)”

33 Older women’s engagement as active citizens
Formal training – Training for officer roles Training as WI advisors Accredited learning – eg as judges Public speaking

34 Public confidence: “We put on training classes … for the presidents, the secretaries, the treasurers and the press and publicity officers, so that those people come here to be trained to do a better delivery within the WI and of course that gives them confidence … to apply to become a parish councillor or whatever” “We also put on public speaking courses … and it does give you confidence”

35 Learning citizenship:
‘I mean you wouldn’t think two weekend courses on public speaking - now you cannot shut me up’’ ‘I did, I got there – I am a chairman of my parish council’ ‘I was president of my WI, I was chairman of the parish council, that was fine, but then I became treasurer and I became chief executive …’ ‘I am vice-chairman of the parish council … that’s where the WI led me’.

36 “I’m suddenly somebody”
“I was now the President and on my first day out in the village…. ‘Hello Vera’; ‘How are you Vera?’; ‘Nice to see you Vera’ – Suddenly I was somebody!”

37 Campaigning: Adult education Farmgate milk prices Renewable energy
Sport for a healthy population Fair Trade What women want Campaign Care of the Environment Farmgate milk prices GM foods Children’s diet Save rural post offices Trafficking

38 Best lobbyists in the country?
“I have been to a meeting with the then home secretary talking about crime … The home secretary said, he said ‘Crime in rural areas doesn’t matter so much’, and I was on my feet saying ‘Excuse me sir, but it matters to the people to whom it happens’!”. “I was invited to Birmingham City Hall and we met with the wives of the G8 summiters … I had a little chat with little Mrs Yeltsin … I have to say that little Mrs Yeltsin … looked to me that she would make the perfect sponge cake for the show. That was how I looked at her. Wearing sensible shoes. And I thought ‘Yes: she has got it right!’”.

39 Learning citizenship:
‘I mean every WI does something for the community even if it’s just a few people going in to help in a primary school – they get involved in all sort of things. They are great volunteers which is great – the community keeps them young and their minds active and there is also – I think there is a big emphasis now on health as well and I think that a lot of our members would be very pro - what’s the thing going on at the moment – “walking your way to health”? - I think you will find a lot of women getting involved in that within their WI’

40 Conclusions – considering ‘capitals’
Human capital Social capital Cultural capital Identity capital

41 Human capital Developing the skills to survive into (gendered) older age …? Skills for retirement, financial benefit and healthy living

42 Social Capital The concept of social capital is defined in terms of networks, norms and trust and draws on its possibilities for interweaving diverse sets of relationships and linking community and society (see Schuller 2001, Schuller et al 2000) “Communication may not be shared with outsider groups, and new ideas and skills may be ignored because they come from outside the network” (Field, 2000: 129)

43 Identity capital ‘respectability is one of the most ubiquitous signifiers of class. It informs how we speak, who we speak to, how we classify others, what we study and how we know who we are (or are not)’ (Skeggs, 1997:1) identity is understood ‘as the constancy to oneself of a responsible being that is predictable … in the way of a well-constructed history’ (Bourdieu, 2000: 299).

44 Conditions for active citizenship:
Values and attitudes from influences such as family, friends and religious and cultural affiliations; Critical incidents which trigger more active social roles; Critical awareness of social conditions coupled with a perception of conditions as oppressive (Merricks and Edirisingha, 2001)

45 Jam, Jerusalem and Calendar Girls

46 Moving on … “The Older Women's Network NSW provides support for a number of state-wide projects that promote the rights, dignity and wellbeing of older women. The focus of our projects is on skill development, social action, empowerment and having fun!”

47 OWN’s vision: The Older Women's Network in NSW believes in a society rich in social capital, where mutual respect and trust are paramount, where diversity and debate are valued and where people and their networks have a legitimate voice.

48 OWN’s Sydney Theatre Group
The Group draws attention to the fact that older women are no longer content to remain invisible and silent about their lives and political concerns. Our Theatre Group is currently made up of fourteen women between the ages of 65 and 79, most with no previous stage experience.

49 OWN performances: Showing our OWN age: skits about surviving the health system Our OWN time of life: skits and songs sending up media portrayals of older women Our say: send-up of Hospital Casemix and its impact on older women Superwoman: critique of superannuation and its effects on older women The older person’s show: lived experiences of older women and emphasises the importance of intergenerational connections Wow!: skits and songs which highlight current issues that concern older women. Issues include hospital waiting lists, nursing homes, GST and banks Doing our OWN thing: volunteering, mutual obligation, reconciliation and multiculturalism! Older women on show: government decisions and ethics, peace, and company directors who assist their companies to go down the gurgler!

50 And in conclusion? “participation in learning sustains active, independent lives and empowers citizens. … (O)lder people have a huge contribution to make, from their accumulated experience, valuable to younger generations and to the whole community. Real lifelong learning must include older as well as younger people, learning together”

51 Final words The research with the NFWI and OWN demonstrated the high impact of lifelong learning for older women in the development of confidence to participate outside of family responsibilities and within communities Lifelong learning and community activity enables many women to claim back a sense of identity and gives a strong support network at a time in their lives when they may be more likely to be isolated, separated from communities of paid work and of family. Organisations like the NFWI and OWN enable older women to continue learning and participating as active citizens through their older life, expanding horizons for older women

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