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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Learner Stories: Adult literacy & returning to school

Language: EN
Document available also in: FR DE IT PL ES


Finding inspiration from learner stories we take a look at Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning and the examples of learner journeys and the role of lifelong learning and adult literacies as part of EU Vocational Skills Week.

Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning is supported by the Festival of Learning and published and edited by RaPAL (Research and Practice in Adult Literacies) and ACAL (Australian Council for Adult Literacy).

The following extract from Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning, originally edited by Tara Furlong and Keiko Yasukawa, has been shortened for the purpose and use of EPALE UK.

Mark Hopkins, PRACE Education and Training

I suppose you've got to go right back to the start. I was fifteen and a half when I left school, and I can relate to a student who struggles. It is hard when you go through school, and you are the class idiot and you can’t do the basic things. It wasn't my own decision to leave school, but my parents didn't see the point of me trying to accomplish VCE when my report card would turn up with UG "ungradeable" on it. It's very hard in the country when there are just no opportunities. The nearest TAFE (Technical and Further Education) was forty minutes away and I didn't drive.

It was difficult growing up in a country town. You tend to know everyone. The hardest time for me was when I left school. A lot of people saw me on the street and said, "Where have you been?" I was vague, and tended to hide from society, because I was ashamed of the circumstances I was in. So when I came to the city, through contacts I found some employment. It was an average job, but you're gracious enough to take whatever you can get. After a few months I knew this type of employment wasn't going to be the future I wanted. So I decided to return to school.

It wasn't easy at first, going back to school and trying to study again, but I knew I had to do it. I had to be committed to it. I was working a shift job, so I would leave after a twelve hour night shift then go to school; but by eleven o'clock I was falling asleep and my teacher would wake me up and would send me home. Then I made the ultimate sacrifice and attempted to find another job, which was very scary for me. I finally achieved getting another job so I could start night school. I reduced my work hours from twelve to eight, money was a bit of an issue, but for me it was about looking toward the future.

I would apply myself for two to three hours a night over the week plus go to school as well. I was continually reading and writing with all the work going to my teacher. Sometimes you get frustrated and you say to yourself, "I'm not improving," but then you'll go back and look over your work from a year ago and I could say to myself, "Yes, you are improving!"

I have been lucky. I've done a few adult literacy courses before. I had a lady at TAFE. Her name was Sophie and I spent five years with her, and due to family reasons she couldn't continue to do nights any more. Then another teacher came in and the chemistry changed. Her approach was very different and unfortunately it didn’t suit me. We kept getting multiple teachers and the chemistry wasn't there anymore. So I decided to have a break.

Return to learning

You never give up though and I said to myself that I needed to go back. I started to ring around and track down some places. Someone I called recommended PRACE to me. So I gave them a call and had a conversation in regards to what I was looking for and after the conversation, I enrolled.

You've got to ask yourself what you want, and I don't just want to be picking up boxes or driving a forklift for the rest of my life, because I know I’m getting older, and one day my body won't be able to take it anymore. Whether those dreams turn out to be true, who knows, but at least I can say I gave it a go!

This is why I came back, because I want to self-develop. Deep down, I know how it feels, how tough it is. It's great when new students come in and give it a go. I think for anyone who is thinking about returning to school, you've got to be committed. It's about me developing enough so that one day if I want to try and look at a promotion at work or if I would like to try something else, I’ll be able to.

In 2009 I had the confidence to go back to TAFE and completed a supply chain management course. In class, academically, I could answer all the questions right. I got through it and I passed. I think they were a bit intrigued by me, because in presentations they would give me 100%, but putting things on paper was the tricky bit, but ten years ago I couldn’t have attempted anything like this and I wanted to do it on my own.

Improving my English has also helped me in my workplace in many different ways. It gives you self-confidence. I have been the HSR (Health and Safety Representative) for over three years now. Sometimes you'll have to read things out. I was terrified of that kind of thing in the past. Now I've got more confidence to do things like that. When I left school, I couldn't put two words together. I was illiterate. It's difficult for anyone who's a young person, who doesn't understand the world and is faced with the biggest uphill battles. I was very fortunate in that I had good parents who supported me all the way. A lot of kids don't have that support. I was lucky in that respect.


If anyone is thinking about it, I'd say there's no harm in trying. Not everyone's going to say it suits them, but I think everybody's also got to set themselves a goal too, to give themselves an hour or two every night. It's a slow process, don't get me wrong, but you'll see some reward. Not a piece of paper, not a promotion, but just in yourself you'll start seeing some reward.

We all wish we could click our fingers and make our problems go away and I can remember the times at school and the struggle I had, but when you're knocked down enough in your life, you have to get up and get back in the ring and have another go. There is a dark side to it, you have moments where you just want to sit in the corner; emotionally it gets to you. You've got to try and pull it all together and believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it's not easy at times. But it is fantastic to have the support of a place like PRACE and a teacher like Tina.

So don’t hide from it any more, give it a go. 

You can read the full version here where you can download Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning.

/en/file/resilience-stories-adult-learningpngResilience Stories of Adult Learning.png

RaPAL is the only UK-wide organisation that focuses on the role of literacies in adult life. We promote effective and innovative practices in adult literacies teaching, learning and research; and support adult literacies practitioners and researchers. We enjoy engaging in debates that touch on English language and literacy, numeracy and digital skills across homes, communities and workplaces. Through our members, digital journals, conferences and fora, policy and advocacy work, we are active in Europe and have international links. We outline what we offer as well as how you can get involved.


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