Many years ago, I was welcomed into a remarkable learning environment in the University of Surrey.
The Institute for Educational Development (IED) took a particular interest in non-traditional entry students into higher degree research programs, particularly PhDs.
I graduated with a PhD in 1989, my wife Sue did so in 1985. Her thesis was an action research investigation into the teaching of dance in secondary schools, mine was a study of the teaching of physical education in secondary schools.
We were part of a group that included science educators and nurse educators. All of us had spent some considerable time in education. Many of us had been told that PhD study was beyond us.
Fortunately, the staff at the IED took a contrary view and we were all inducted into a caring environment in which everyone appeared to flourish.
After my graduation, I was determined that if ever I had the opportunity, I would champion non-traditional entry. Twenty-years later I did have an opportunity to establish this environment at the University of Canberra in an institution that made a significant commitment to alternative entry for sportswomen and sportsmen.
To date, six non-traditional entry students have graduated with a PhD. The most recent, this week, is Ron Smith. Ron has been coaching football for five decades. He was recommended for the award of his PhD two months after his 67th birthday.
He and I agreed at the outset that his PhD would be written for coaches by a coach. His learning journey has had a profound impact upon me. I am delighted for his success as it affirms my belief that access to education is a liberating experience. Ron’s thesis is his voice as a coach.
Just as we were celebrating Ron’s success, I heard from one of the coaches in my critical friend group. After many years in front line coaching, he had taken the opportunity to participate in a UK sport program for high performance coaches.
He shared with me a wonderful reflection on his coaching journey. He is a national coach in his sport. It was delightful hearing his voice in the text. It is the longest essay he has ever written.
He and Ron have affirmed for me what it is to be a lifelong learner. Both voices came at the end of a week when I came across a Roald Dahl quote:
We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.
This, I think, is the essence of education and the aspiration to support alternative voices. It is an unequivocal commitment to pedagogy and scholarship.
Ron Smith (Profootball Training)