Academic dissertation 18.6.2010: Mr. Ilpo Kuronen

From comprehensive school to the school of life.  Narratives of young adults` engagement in basic education and of  their life course following comprehensive school are at risk of exclusion from vocational education and training

Kuronen, I. University of Jyväskylä. Institute for Educational Research. Research Reports 26
ISSN 1455-447X, ISBN 978-951-39-3889-5 (printed version), ISBN 978-951-39-3890-1 (pdf)

Publication is available on the Internet (in Finnish) or


The focus of this qualitative study was to examine how young adults at risk of exclusion from vocational education construct their relationship to their basic education and life course after comprehensive school. This research interest focuses on identifying the school career of young adults, how they evaluated it, what kind of future plans they made and if they integrated in society. The study focused on school and work experiences and what kind of role leisure time, family and social relationships played in the biography of the participants` life career. Negative circles at school were explored in two periods, lower
and higher grades of the basic school and education after comprehensive school as well in transitions between them. At the same time, growth processes and development from childhood to youth and adulthood were investigated.

Endless varieties of late modern life course, increasingly individualized lifestyles, risk of exclusion, alternative pedagogics and interpretations of relationship between individual and school offered the theoretical framework for the examination of young adults` life courses. Biography, life course and narrative were central concepts.

The data of the study consists of 22 narratives of young adults from eastern Finland. The research participants` personal experiences are the main focus of the research. The biographical thematic interviews concentrated on the research participants` experiences concerning learning, important turning points, early interventions, teacher-student relationships, atmosphere and community, commitment to studies, coping resources, and reflections on studying in conditions defined as contradictory between the participants and the institution of school.

The primary methods used in the study are analysis of narratives and narrative analysis. The research combines biographical and life history approaches. Analysis produces typologies, categories and thematic examinations, which are closely scrutinized.

Three main types of narratives describing the relationship to basic education can be identified. Several participants were labeled in early primary school as sensitive or restless children. Other participants emphasized how they were teased during their basic education. There were also pupils, who got bored of schooling in the later stages of basic education. Some of them gave up, but others completed their basic education, even though they disliked it. Many of participants expressed different difficulties before their basic education began. Transitions of school attendance and especially the transition to higher grades of basic school were critical points. Many participants had psychosocial problems, difficulties related to life management and crises in their life course. Two types of life courses after basic education can be identified, either progressive or unstable ones. The comprehensive and vocational schools were not able to offer significant learning experiences sufficiently. Alternative pedagogical approaches directed their educational path towards a better direction. Life courses were constructed as coping and growing narratives leading to adulthood and integration within society.

Keywords: basic school, vocational education and training, life course, exclusion, narrative approach, learning experience, alternative pedagogy