Perspectives of learning during the transition from secondary school to university: A comparative study of first generation university students in Chile and New Zealand
While tertiary education has grown rapidly in most countries in recent years, retention rates and educational success of many first generation students is still below that of their counterparts from tertiary-educated family backgrounds. This presents a significant challenge to universities seeking to better understand and support such students. This comparative study explores the perspectives of learning along educational transitions between school and university that were experienced by two groups of first generation university students in Chile and New Zealand. The research draws on the narratives of 24 working class university students enrolled in teacher education programmes and studying to become teachers. Unlike some previous studies of first generation students that take a deficit approach to the educational under-achievement of working class students, this research assumes that the barriers these students face are primarily located within institutional structures and that the distinctive perspectives of first generation university students make a positive contribution to institutional development. A photo-elicitation methodological approach was undertaken whereby the participants were asked to collect images that represented their school and university experiences. These images were then assembled onto a storyboard. Group and individual interviews were also conducted. Through a dialogical approach derived from Bakhtin, the thesis examines the cultural, social and emotional tensions and accomplishments they encountered in the course of their educational journeys through school and university. Employing Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, and Quinn’s notion of imagined social capital, this study found that for New Zealand students, imagined social capital was largely located in institutional contexts, while in Chile these were more closely associated with social groups and peers. The findings show that New Zealand has a more flexible and supportive system of school to university transitions than Chile. In both countries, however, students placed considerable value on experiences that allowed them to connect their own social background with what they learned at university.