Barriers to Education for the Marginalized Adult Learner


  • Sarah Flynn University of Calgary
  • Jason Brown University of Western Ontario
  • Andrew Johnson University of Western Ontario
  • Susan Rodger University of Western Ontario



literacy, barriers, education, adult


This qualitative study examines barriers to adult education by the marginalized adult learner. We adopted an inclusive approach by interviewing potential adult learners who had not participated in adult education programs due to illiteracy. Five overlapping themes related to barriers emerged and were categorized as: family values and responsibilities (i.e., cultural); the emotional effect of family poverty on participants’ lives (i.e., anger at the welfare system); disrupted school and learning experiences (i.e., multiple school changes); social exclusion and personal challenges (i.e., marginalization due to race, class); and turning points in participants’ education and hopes for the future (i.e., positive role models).

Cette étude qualitative examine les obstacles à l'éducation pour adultes auxquels font face les adultes marginalisés. Nous avons adopté une approche inclusive en interviewant des adultes ayant pu participer à des programmes d'éducation pour adulte, mais qui ne l'avaient pas fait parce qu'ils étaient analphabètes. Il en a découlé cinq thèmes qui se chevauchent et qui sont liés aux obstacles. On les a catégorisés ainsi: les valeurs et responsabilités familiales (c.-à-d. culturelles); l'effet affectif de la pauvreté de la famille sur  la vie des participants (par ex. la colère contre le système d'aide sociale); les expériences scolaires perturbées (c.-à-d. le changement d'école à de multiples reprises); l'exclusion sociale et des défis personnels; et les tournants décisifs dans l'éducation des participants et leurs espoirs pour l'avenir (c.-à-d. les modèles de rôle positifs).

Author Biographies

Sarah Flynn, University of Calgary

Sarah Flynn is a graduate student at the University of Calgary doing her doctorate in counseling psychology. Her primary research interests are acculturative stress in international students and the use of meaning-focused coping strategies.

Jason Brown, University of Western Ontario

Jason Brown is a professor in the Faculty of Education at The University of Western Ontario. He is interested in holistic approaches to individual, family, and community wellness. He teaches in the Counselling Psychology program; his research is in partnership with community-based organizations.

Andrew Johnson, University of Western Ontario

Andrew Johnson is an associate professor in the School of Health Studies at The University of Western Ontario. His research program focuses on the identification of cognitive factors in motor function for those afflicted with Parkinson’s disease.

Susan Rodger, University of Western Ontario

Susan Rodger is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario and teaches in the Counselling Psychology program. She uses feminist and social justice frameworks to examine the influence of culture, language, and violence on women’s experiences in the classroom.