"The Glass Class" - The Challenges and Barriers for women as parents returning to education in an Irish context.

Dillon, Barbara (2015) "The Glass Class" - The Challenges and Barriers for women as parents returning to education in an Irish context.


The primary aim of my thesis is to explore what are the challenges and barriers for women as parents returning to education in an Irish context. The title of my thesis implies there is somehow a ‘glass ceiling’ positioning for some women in achieving their educational goals, that is, “the invisible but effective barrier which prevents women from moving beyond a certain point in an educational environment, similar to that of the promotion ladder in an employment environment”. The thesis begins with a biographical narrative of my own educational journey to date as a mother and mature student. The literature used crosses social, cultural and economic spheres including feminist theory. It examines women’s social roles, both past and present, using the ideology of feminism drawing from the main theorist Simone De Beauvoir, her notion of woman’s identity and her ideas concerning gender as a social construct.
Five women participants who are mature students and parents were interviewed using a feminist qualitative research approach to explore their educational journeys. The findings are presented in the form of five core narratives to give you, the reader, a better understanding of who the participants are and their educational story to date. From coding and categorising the data generated, nine themes emerged from the findings and from this a more in-depth analysis of each theme is presented.
The findings in the research study illustrated how access and participation for the participants returning to education took a different turn particularly when these women’s position in society changed. When looking at responsibility and role the study suggested that parental involvement is gendered. Although the study illustrated the diversity of these women’s lived experiences it suggested we may still live in a patriarchal society, with this cohort having the primary responsibility for childcare. The findings demonstrated that even when a woman’s rights are legally recognized in the abstract, long standing custom, traditions and attitudes may prevent their full expression in society. The study suggests the responsibilities put upon this cohort and the challenges this presents need to be better recognised and acknowledged in the discourses around further and higher education at government and institutional levels. In particular the study revealed without the Irish government providing accessible and affordable childcare, it may not be possible for women as parents to progress in their educational journey reinforcing a ‘glass ceiling’ positioning for them.

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