Open doors

28th March 2003 at 00:00
BECKY BECOMES AN IT GIRL

Illness disrupted Becky Wigmore's education so badly that she left school unable to read. For years, she struggled in a world where literacy is everything. Then, late last year, her life was transformed.

"My daughter came home from school with a leaflet that had details of adult Christmas craft courses being run by Warwickshire College," says Becky, a single mother of two from Lillington, Leamington Spa. "I decided to go along and learn how to make crackers and decorations."

However, the tutors were assessing more than Becky's nimble fingers. They weighed up her other needs and invited her to try something different when the course ended.

"Because I had such a positive experience, I enrolled on basic IT and English courses run at Lillington youth centre," says Becky. "I'm now working towards level 3 in both."

Although life still revolves around caring for her children Andrew, 5, and Rachel, 12 - who, like Becky, is epileptic - new horizons have opened. "I don't only want to stay at home with my children - I want to be able to achieve things," she said.

Becky's ambition is to become a paramedic. Having learned first aid at school and spent much of her life looking after ill people, she's now planning the first steps. "I can read to my son; I can fill out forms without help," she says. "I'm totally different."

DYSLEXIA BEATEN - AT 45

When Barry Ball was at school, no one recognised dyslexia. Barely able to read, he relied on his excellent manual skills for his living as a mechanic.

Only when his son was diagnosed with the same condition did it occur to Barry where his own problem might lie. "I went to the Dyslexia Institute in Coventry," he says. "I didn't even know my vowels."

Twenty weeks at the Institute set 50-year-old Barry off on a remarkable five-year learning curve that saw him progress to Bedworth College. He has now completed English and maths basic skills at level 3, so is embarking on GCSE maths.

Today he is much more at ease with the world. "Five years ago, I wouldn't have been talking to the press," he says. "I used to hide myself away and not communicate with anyone."

Barry's new-found literacy helped get him a job as a vehicle tester with Nuneaton borough council. He has since been inspired to do courses as a first-aid officer, a fire warden, in touch-typing, spelling and IT. "You have to have goals in life," he says.

Jenny Marshall, his tutor at Bedworth, says: "Barry was our adult learner of the year in 2001. His development has been amazing."

WINNIE SWITCHES ON

Until recently Winnie Crowther, a cleaning supervisor at Wigan and Leigh college, had never switched on a computer - she had only tidied around them. Now, thanks to a basic skills course, she is surfing the net and writing essays.

Wigan and Leigh is one of 19 colleges recruited by the Association for College Management to pilot the scheme. Winnie, 60, and several of her colleagues have never looked back, according to their tutor, Judith Mossad, all having reached National level 1 standard in English.

The weekly two-hour sessions, which began last October, are free for students. Winnie and her team, all over 50, say the exercise has been "great fun". She says: "We used to be frightened to switch computers on and off. We all thought we were too old for anything like this."

The students have used computers to research essay topics - one was on Marilyn Monroe - and for writing. They also get homework.

"It's a bit like being back at school but great fun," says Winnie, who left school at 15 to work as a weaver.

Like many other adult learners whose eyes have suddenly been opened, Winnie reports a boost in her confidence. "They are all so keen," says Ms Mossad.

"Initially, their spelling and grammar was poor. But you can more or less see learning taking place."

Interviews by Andrew Morant

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