This simple word can mean so much – an untended forgotten garden, with care and nurturing, can transform into a fertile landscape of colour and vibrancy that breathes life into the air…
And yet if forgotten, if it remains neglected, it withers, fades and never fulfils what it has the capacity or indeed hidden potential to be…
For us transformation in the context of education is about providing an environment where learners flourish in democratic critical spaces based on respect; learners who have often been silenced and marginalised entering further education’s landscape are offered choices and hope which streams into their personal and public journeys.
The garden metaphor is a suitable one because the change from a wild, neglected space to a flourishing, rich and green space carries with it the implications of nurturing, of care, of cultivation and hard work. Also, it recognises that even the most wild, the most barren space has a potential buried in its soil.
With care, with patience, with belief, it can become a place of miraculous beauty. It may sound flowery, it may sound exaggerated or over-romanticised but how else should we characterise the transformation that many students of further education experience?
It isn’t just about the qualifications gained. It’s not just about the percentages scored on assessments. It’s about the changes of meaning and the instilling of hope. It’s about the aura that people who have rediscovered a belief in themselves give off. The quiet assertiveness of the person who has taken on the challenge of returning to learn as an adult and come out fulfilled and affirmed.
We know that learning is closely tied up with identity. We know that, without attention to this aspect, educational experiences can founder.
From the people we have talked to during the course of carrying out this research based on the powerful power of FE to transform the lives of learners, their families and communities, a picture has emerged that clearly and powerfully reveals FE is a critical and vital space where many people, otherwise marginalised by the education, once again re-engage and strongly believe a an empowering door has been opened, where they are facilitated to reach their potential – aspire to move forward in directions they never before imagined yet alone carried out – to do this they are supported in a holistic and meaningful way.
The journeys we have listened to: of the young man who had put his anger and frustration that hurt him and his family behind him beaming while he spoke about his future plans and his and his mum’s pride in his progress; another learner inspired with his story of moving from bricklaying to fulfilling his creative dream and becoming an accomplished photographer; the young man who beta his habit, a brave transformation from heroin addiction to being clean and returning to learn and holding down a successful management position. Each story shoots tendrils of growth and renewal outwards from the individual concerned to affect their friends, their families and their communities in such positive ways. These learners have hope and are living full lives.
Behind the figures of completion rates, the retention scores, the Ofsted grades and the denigration of SMW, these stories from further education reminds us all that in our unequal society, where choice for is a myth, education holds a preeminent potential for transforming people’s lives, further education enacts this, not at the expense of who students, being rich doesn’t give the golden ticket in FE, the doors are open and welcome to all. FE recognises and embraces the human being at the heart of the education process.
Our research gives voice to voices that are often silenced and marginalised. Each story illustrating how further education provides vital empowering spaces for learners to grow and flourish. Learners who now have hope and have turned around their lives.They are inspirational and their stories remind us of the power of FE to transform and enrich lives and communities.
Listen to Marie’s story, as told on radio 4 women’s hour, as she speaks about learning to read as an adult and how FE as transformed her life and that of her family: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06qkglk