Story of Tony, Ireland

At what age did you learn to read and write?

I began learning to read and write three years ago. I am now 56 years of age. Three years ago I was offered six hours free tuition in the evenings as part of a job I was doing locally. I signed up for a computer course in Youghal Adult Education Centre and that was really the start for me. A tutor noticed that I had difficulty reading and spelling, so with her support I decided to do one-to-one literacy classes.

Why did you not learn as a child?

I was born in Blackpool, Cork in the south of Ireland and I was the youngest of six siblings. I was only seven years old when my father died in the 1960s. Like many of my generation, I got left behind in primary school as there were 57 children in the class. I left school early and got an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. I had originally applied for a job with Pfizer in Cork and made it to the second interview but lost out because of my literacy difficulties.

What was the most difficult thing about learning as an adult?

The first step in the door was most difficult. At first I was terrified as I thought I was the only one with problems or that I was the worst.

Why did you want to learn?

I had a constant fear that I’d be caught out. When I worked as a taxi driver, I was expected to jot down addresses and directions from the radio. That wasn’t an option for me so I bought a Dictaphone to get around this – recording the message the minute it came in and playing it back to myself. If I couldn’t read signs, I’d ask someone. Before long I’d memorised all our customers and addresses. I also worked in the pub business for a while but always found the paperwork difficult. I was nearly teaching myself to read at that stage – comparing the labels on bottles with the names in order forms. But dealing with solicitors and banks or anything official was always nerve-wracking. It hung over me like a huge fear in case I’d be asked to read.

What has it meant for you? How has your life changed?

I no longer have a fear of saying to others: ‘I’m sorry I can’t read or write that. Can you do it for me?’ Since attending Adult Education classes, everything has changed. Going back to education has inspired and empowered me. I can’t praise the tutors in the local Adult Education Centre enough. They’ve given me the confidence to try anything. And now I’m even representing other learners on the National Adult Literacy Agency Student Sub-committee and am proud of that. I hope that others will have a chance to return to education and that cutbacks will not affect education and training.

What would you like to say to other adults who cannot read and write?

Go and get help. Find out where the agency is that can help. Tuition is a great opportunity that has made a huge difference to my life. After a year and a half working with my tutor, I joined a group class with ten other adults. It is fantastic. We have been together two years and are now all on FETAC Level 3 at the moment – everyone has similar stories and is helping each other out – it’s great fun.