Issue date: 15 May 2001

Adult Learners' Week (14-18 May 2001)

Mature students from the University of the West of England will celebrate their return to Higher Education at events around the city during Adult Learners week (14 to 18 May 2001). The University has nominated three students in the regional heat for the Outstanding Learner Award which is a national award recognising the achievements of mature students.

Diane Stone, Co-ordinator of UWE's Community Action Centre, said, "Adult Learners' Week is so important when it comes to raising awareness of the opportunities for potential mature students. UWE is very responsive to the agenda for widening participation and is leading the way in encouraging greater involvement of HE in the activities surrounding Adult Learners' Week".

Two students who have resoundingly agreed that it's worth it to make sacrifices to return to full time learning are Antoinette Robinson and Sally Shields. Both women are in their forties and have successfully overcome obstacles to learning and returned to education full time by juggling family responsibilities with demanding course work.

Antoinette (Toni) Robinson

Antoinette (Toni) Robinson is in her second year of the Fine Art in Context degree at UWE. She returned to education as soon as she felt her three children were old enough. Antoinette had worked in business for years but had always aspired to work in an area, which would satisfy her love of the Arts. She said, "I was motivated by a life long passion for the Arts and wanted financial independence and a career of my own. As I had no formal qualifications I didn't think this was possible. However I enrolled on an Access course at Swindon College and discovered the joy of learning and the satisfaction of achievement. When I returned to education I was in my forties and felt very insecure at first, but the support and encouragement from the staff was excellent and I soon found that I was able to study at a level I had previously not thought possible.

"I have learnt that if you are committed and eager to learn there are plenty of people willing to help. I now know that I will succeed in gaining my degree and become financially independent. My degree will give me the confidence and opportunity to use my art with my work experience with socially excluded young people. When I have my degree I plan to work full time with young people, especially those who have had bad school experiences."

Toni has already received numerous requests from schools and youth work projects needing someone with her evident talents and enthusiasm. One of the projects she did undertake for her course work involved six other UWE students. They worked with children at the Oaktree Nursery and Primary School in Swindon, which has a large number of special needs children. The group encouraged the children to talk about what they would most like to be when they grew up. The artists drew an outline of each child on MDF and added the details they wanted to portray. The outline was then cut out and each one was painted in bright colours and placed around the playground.

Sally Shield

Sally Shield, who is in her final year on the Fine Art in Context award in the Faculty of Art, Media and Design, has also been nominated for an Individual Learner Award. Sally harboured an ambition to become a teacher for many years but was barred from opportunity because of a lack of qualifications including the all-important Maths GCSE. Not one to be deterred Sally slowly built up her qualifications over a period of years during which time she was also raising three children, one with cerebral palsy. Sally said, " Maths was always the stumbling block for me until I met an inspirational teacher called Tracy Aumann who taught in the South Bristol area. She showed me that I could 'do' Maths if I was taught properly. I passed with an GCSE grade 1 equivalent."

One day Sally was visiting the central library when she saw UWE graduates pouring out of the Cathedral after an awards ceremony - this was a turning point and she determined that she would be one of a graduating crowd in four years time. Sally said, "I had tried to get back into learning so many times but as my son has cerebral palsy and was very ill I had to forget about it. But on this day I made the decision, enrolled onto an Access course and here I am five years later in my last year on a degree course at Bower Ashton. I have accepted a place on the PGCE for next year and I want to help others feel that they can
achieve whilst they are at school or later on when they feel ready for the experience of learning."

Nick Lowe, Sally's tutor said, "Sally's experience is a clear demonstration that education is a viable option for a parent. The challenges of further and higher education are forbidding at every stage. Sally's ability to have gone the distance is a shining example of achievement."

The third UWE nominee was John Butler, who plans to use his artistic skills to work with people with learning disabilities. All three nominees received a Certificate of Achievement at the Regional Awards Ceremony.


Editors notes

Adult Learners' Week is an annual national initiative designed to celebrate the role that learning can play in transforming people's lives. It's a chance to promote learning opportunities to adults who would not normally consider learning as an option. This year a series of events took place between 14 and 18 May within Bristol and South Gloucestershire, starting with the Outstanding Learners Award Ceremony on 14 May at Gloucestershire county Cricket Ground in Horfield.

For the Learning Awards Tutors are invited to nominate people - individuals and groups, who have improved their own lives or the lives of others as a result of their learning experiences. Nominees do not have to be super-people but ordinary adults whose experiences could serve to inspire others to think about returning to education.

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