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The quest to unearth the true meaning of adult education and the impact it has on the life of immigrant women in Vancouver seems to remain elusive in the perspective of researchers. In order to be sure the sheer enormity of information only adds to the illusion and debate that the solution is somewhere out there. Instead of wasting time looking for the global definition the current work attempts to review the available links utilizing the previous work and any other relevant source as the foundation for further research in the life of immigrant women in Vancouver. (Fewell, 2001)
The Hamburg Declaration on Adult Education in 1997 defined adult learning as the “Whole body of learning that is taking place, be it formal or otherwise whereby individuals regarded as adults in their community develop the ability, enrich their knowledge, and improve their professional and technical knowledge.” Adult learning assumes different forms (formal, informal, non-formal). It is provided in different setups and places (CommunityLearningCenters, evening classes), for deferring purposes (vocational or general) and varying from primary to postdoctoral levels (adult basic learning to higher education, etc). In the recent years the term “adult education” has been replaced by the term “adult learning” putting more emphasis on the demand than on the provision. However, the distinction is arguable and frequently conciliation is struck by combining and concurrently applying the two phrases: adult learning and adult education (ALE).
One controversial issue is the age limit, since societies have got differing notions of adulthood, either it from cultural or legal point of view. To take into account this ambiguity, the phrase “youth and adult education” is progressively more applied in adult education documents. The normative stand is to consider adult education as training and learning for those individuals who are after schooling age pertaining to the group above 15 years of age. The Hamburg Declaration ALE is a summary for the objectives of adult education as to develop the autonomy and sense of responsibility of people and societies, to reinforce the capacity to tackle transformations that are taking place in the cultures, economy and society taken as a whole, as well as promoting tolerance, coexistence and creative participation amongst citizen in society.
Framed in an ultimate learning perspective, adult learning is regarded as the key constituent of a comprehensive and holistic learning system. This being the case, literacy builds the foundation for learning as a part of adult learning to the extent that; in some states it is incorrectly reduced adult basic education or adult literacy. The strength of adult learning is based on the fact that it covers a wide range of domains in the society life (ranging from basic literacy, work-related concerns, health matters, environmental issues and even leisure). It also takes place in diversity of settings from home, the work place, and place of worship and at other social means (Taylor, 1990).
As indicated above adult learning includes a broad scope of fields. The present study has narrowed it range to cover the most prominent fields that appeared during the research phase of the project. From its commencement adult education unlike any other area of education has perceived its purpose as that of developing conditions through which adults communicate across divergence as sine qua non. This has stood out as a form of education designed to prevail over just the kinds of interruptions in learning of inequality and power influence which has led anti-modernists or postmodernists to condemn reflective discourse and education as illusionary objectives. Adult education facilitators have traditionally been focused on the disenfranchised and the societal, cultural and economically disadvantaged ones and have reached out to adults through such universally renowned programs as the FolkSchools, Workers’ Theatre, The Frontier College, and Women’s institutes. Most of these programs and institutes have engaged their learners in community services to address the range of society needs and to alleviate immediate hardships faced by the members of communities. The programs also develop reflection and critical thinking, fostering conditions for critiquing community; socially, economically in its political structures, and challenging power hierarchies through their social engagements. While most of the adult programs were propelled by various philosophers and learning theories, the concepts of change (personal change, professional and even social changes) as well as the potential of risk in learning are common undercurrents (Birkenmaier, 2011).
Many educators understand the value of reflection, contemplative practices and engage dialogue to raise the states of consciousness or awareness for creating new ways of thinking. They also understand the value of expanding knowledge systems that promote shift in the worldviews, as well as taking action to develop and sustain a just society.
The present work highlights the values of methodological, theoretical and conceptual frames applied in research, in adult education that responds to questions concerning transformative learning and adult learning. The work pays significant attention to the transformative learning theory, adult learning theory that has gained popularity in the field of Women and Learning. The study refers to phases of study involving women immigrating to Canada Chapman, S. A. (2007).
Adult Women as Learners
One of the major parts of becoming an effective educator is attaining the understanding of how adults can learn best. Unlike children, adults tend to have specific requirements and needs as learners. Other than the apparent fact, adult learning is a new field of study. Malcom Knowles founded the area of adult learning. In his study on adult learning Knowles identified several characteristics in adults as learners:
First, adults are independent and self-directed ones. Adult women’s learners need independence to direct them. Their educators must dynamically involve adult members in the learning process and take a position of a facilitator for them. Specifically, adults’ educators must get learners’ perspectives about the topics to cover and allow them to work on projects that serve their interests (Cranton, 1994). They should permit the participators to assume responsibilities for presentations and leadership at their groups. Educators have to be sure to play the facilitators roles, guiding learners to their own fields of knowledge rather than giving them the facts. Again, it is the role of the educator to show the learner the importance of their course on attaining their goals.
The second characteristic is that the most adult immigrant women have an accumulation of experience and knowledge that include their work related activities, previous education, and family responsibilities. The adult learners are in need to connect the learning process to experience base. To assist them in doing so, the educators should draw out learners’ experience that is relevant to the education. Educator must relate theories and concepts to the learners and recognize the values of experience in learning (Cranton, 1997).
Thirdly, adult women’s learners tend to be goal oriented. Upon registering for the course, the learners usual know what objectives they intend to attain. They, therefore, value educational programs that are organized and have defined goals. The educators must show learners the part played by the course in the attainment of their goals. The categorization of goals and their integration into the course objectives is done early in the preparation of the course. The adult learners are relevancy-oriented. They must be given convincing reasons for taking certain course. New knowledge has to be applicable to their field of work or any other responsibility that is of value to them. To this effect, the educators must be aware of the objectives for the adult learners before the course start. This implies that theory and concepts must be connected to a setting familiar to educators. This connection between theories and concepts is met by allowing the learners to choose projects according to their interests.
The fourth characteristics for the adult women’s learning is that the adults are practical, they tend to focus on the aspects of a course that is most applicable to them in their work experience. Adult learners are not interested in knowledge for the sake. The educators must let the learners know how the course will be useful in their work field. As any other learners, adult learners require to be shown respect. Educators must acknowledge the background of experiences that adult learners bring with them in the classroom. In order to do this, learners must be treated as equals in knowledge and experience and be given the freedom to air their opinions in class (Cuddapah, 2005).
The feminist theory is fundamental to work on immigrant women and learning, and community based ones; Active Living programs in Canada have made a significant contribution in research in this area. This theory refers to the guiding theoretical frameworks that arise from the feminist movement. While theory looks on the experiences, life and realities of women with aims add social and value legitimacy to them. Feminism aims at making all women’s concern to count in both policy and practice while transforming the entire society so that both genders are reflected more accurately. According to (Fewell, 2001), inequalities of one form or in one area of life would affect and generate other forms of inequalities. Feminist theorists have been of the great contribution in bringing to the limelight the interlocking power relationships of gender, social classes and race (Danquah, 2000). Such power relationships of gender have implications for the practice of adult learning as they are factors for both learners and educators. Learners or educators who benefit from representing multiple privileged areas may exercise more power in the learning program (Davis, 1993). Davis and West further developed on this identifying that white males rarely confront their maleness or what it stands for in their lives. The power relationships that are universal norms of male identity is only confronted and fully exercised when individuals are pro-active in the effort to unmask the hidden structures that strengthen that power and challenge these structures. According to Gregory, (1996) feminism can address this in society in general or specifically in the learning setting or through education institution in feminist pedagogy. Nevertheless, some theorists suppose that feminist pedagogy is insufficient, and just other analysis must include gender, race and social class, the pedagogical theories must as well be open to accommodate other critical theories of learning. The feminist theorists have identified that women are usually denied a chance in high quality work and are segregated into gender-related occupation. The training programs for marginalized groups such as immigrant women are difficult since the programs are hardly ever designed from realities and perspective of the target groups (Gregory, 1996). Though it is essential to advise the training programs for immigrant women to design their programs with women’s lives in perspective, it is also necessary not to turn valuing and recognizing women’s lives into essential zing women (Hoggan et al, 2009). Giving women too much attention limits their focus of possibilities to those of a real woman. Education is a large factor incorporated in the series of the complex relationships in which education, school, and unequal access to knowledge, and training for work shape the experience of women (Jackson, 2008). Feminist theory has been essential in traditional analyses of training at ignoring gender barrier of labor and disregarding the conceptions of skill. Again, women’s principal responsibility for family labor and child-care works to restrain their freedom and opportunities. Theorists argue for the need to bring feminist and critical analyses into academic circles and to challenge the educational inequalities that are founded on education in commercial and corporate agendas. Immigrating women, as theorists, educators and students, have a significant part to play in resolving the existing inequalities of their personal and academic environment. The immigrant women have challenged adult educators to counteract women’s invisibility, and appreciate a gendered world, and to refuse the lack of model of women; moreover, they are challenging adult educators to investigate the established definitions affecting women (Vavrus, 2002).
In Canada, there are several adult educators who contribute directly to the feminist theory (e.g., Miles, 1995; Gouthro, 2000), building upon Marxist theory (Gunn et al., 2007). They have enlarged the scope of gender and social classes and concluded that the learners or educators who have privileged categories or background can have more power in the classroom.
There is more work that needs to be done, particularly in relation to the theoretical conceptions of immigrant women and learning.