Keep your hands off my lifeline

12th October 2007 at 01:00

Blind Iranian-born author Gohar Kordi adds her voice to the FE Focus-Niace debate on a sector under threat.

It was in 1986 I started to attend adult education classes. It was September and my son had just started nursery. A friend mentioned she was thinking of going to a creative writing class and asked if I would like to join her. I leapt at the chance I had always wanted to write.

She found a class at the City Lit, London's adult learning centre, and we enrolled. Under the tutelage of Alison Fell, the novelist and poet, and alongside 26 other people, some of whom commuted from as far afield as Oxford and Brighton, we took the first steps towards getting our thoughts down on paper.

I took to it like a duck to water. Towards the end of that year, Alison showed some of my writing to her publisher, Serpent's Tail, and they rang me asking if I would like to write a book. Naturally, I agreed. My writing career had begun.

My first novel, An Iranian Odyssey, was published in 1991. The writing of that book, which was largely autobiographical and consequently extremely cathartic, triggered an inner transformation, which brought about a phenomenal change in my life.

Having discovered the benefits of adult education classes, nothing was to stop me.

I followed them hungrily, one after the other, at times two or even three of them in a single year: baking, yoga, dance, reiki, IT, pilates, reflexology. I tried them all and benefited enormously from each and every one.

With most classes, I was accommodated with open arms and given the appropriate help I needed to fit in. The only refusal I had was from the one class where I had least expected it a drumming course. The tutor turned me down because he thought I wouldn't be able to cope, even though my hearing and sense of rhythm had allowed me to play the violin in my school days.

But most classes were no problem. In my writing class, I recorded my writings on cassette. In yoga, the tutor showed me certain movements by touch once or twice, then I could follow the class.

An amazing hunger had been awakened in me to learn, to experience and to develop. I had big gaps in my early education. For instance, I hadn't been given a chance to participate in sport as I grew up because of my visual impairment.

A few years ago, I finally plucked up the courage to approach Morley College in London about ceramics classes. I had been wanting to take up the craft for years, but was concerned about how I would cope working independently in a large group, where there would be constant activities, changes and many obstacles around me.

To my surprise and delight, when I finally contacted the college, explaining that I am visually impaired, the pleasant-sounding young woman on the end of the phone replied "No problem, we have a special needs department. I'll send a note to Mary."

Mary contacted me, explaining that she had allocated a support worker to assist me during the class.

"A support worker?" I couldn't believe my ears. I was overjoyed and enrolled immediately.

She gets together all the materials I need the type of clay, tools and colours then I set to work.

Since then, I have had a number of wonderful support workers who help me with colours describing them and helping me to match them up and assist me with painting, glazing, and so on.

The tutors have been wonderful, highly supportive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. My class is a warm, friendly and supportive environment. With only a three-hour session each week, I have somehow managed to produce numerous pots, plates and sculptural pieces, much to the amazement of family and friends.

When working with clay, I experience moments of joyful excitement, free association and playful exploration. The image of one of my works came to me as I played with the clay and started humming a tune in my head. The lyrics contained the symbol of a deer, so that's what I started sculpting.

I do ceramics because it is creative and relaxing. It gives me total freedom of expression and, for me, it is highly therapeutic.

I find working with clay magical. Some of my sculptural works can be seen in the college gallery.

I am extremely grateful for all the help and support I get. Morley College has been a model place of learning for me. Accessibility is one of its core values and I certainly owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

I have been attending classes of various kinds for 20 years and many people have told me of the wonderful effect adult education has had on their lives.

My message is this: adult education is a precious commodity for a great many people in this country. The authorities are underestimating our need and our determination.

Hands off, please.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Three conferences are being organised by the Niace, the adult education body, under the title "FE in the 21st Century: What Works for Adults" to look at the past, present and future of adult learning.

They will be held on November 8 and 29 and January 17 at the London Chamber of Commerce, 33 Queen Street, London EC4.

FE Focus is keen to provide a platform for the full range of opinions on the debate. Readers who wish to contribute letters for publication, or simply want to pass on their views or ideas, should email steve.hook@tes.co.uk

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