Rapper helps Tony work with reptiles

As thousands of students await the August exam results that will take them on to college and university, a new adult literacy project in Glasgow reminds us that many are less lucky in education first time round.

Tony is 20 and originally from Possilpark. He left school at 16 without formal qualifications and is homeless. He has, however, a strong affinity with Tupac Shakur, the American rap artist, and he writes poetry.

Now he wants to work with reptiles - including snakes - after improving basic skills in AIM, an adult education project for the homeless, run by the Quarriers charity. He hopes to do a course in pet care and open his own business.

With over a dozen other homeless youngsters, Tony joined a programme that began in April to improve core literacy skills. Some are preparing for further education.

Coleen Willoughby, adult literacy co-ordinator in the initiative, said that while it was unclear how literacy and numeracy related to people's reasons for being homeless,"we know that if they have support to improve their skills, they are in a much better, and definitely more confident position, to access further education and employment."

The project focuses on access to mainstream education, employment training and work skills on a one-to-one basis at their hostel. That makes the difference, said Ms Willoughby. "Some of them prefer really structured programmes of learning while others would not respond to that - they would run from it. I frame lessons around their interests, even though I would like a little more structure.

"Tony, for example, is very passionate about Tupac Shakur and when he comes to the sessions he brings more and more poetry, which we look at and identify what kind of help he needs with words."

She has been working closely with groups in Romania, France, Portugal and Austria to examine new ways of assessing the educational needs of adult learners but hopes that the lessons learned will also be useful closer to home.

Ms Willoughby hopes that the project will be able to inform the Scottish Executive about homeless learners. "While the Executive deals with literacy through its national training project, it might not be as focused as we are on the needs of the homeless.We could be in a position to identify curriculum approaches that might be too structured or not work for other reasons with some of our learners," she said.

Tony summed up the group's aspirations by quoting from his rap-artist mentor: "The rose that grew from the crack in the concrete."

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