Woman's longing to learn overcomes sight handicap: Ministers face call to double numbers of older people on courses as poll shows fewer than 1 in 10 take learning option after retirement

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FAILING EYESIGHT forced Edith Ibbotson to leave school at the age of 10. Left with only peripheral vision she never read a word in more than 40 years, but now she is studying for a degree in English literature.

Mrs Ibbotson, from Bolton in Lancashire, is among the nominees for this year's Outstanding Adult Learners' Awards, the results of which will be announced today at the launch of Adult Learners' Week.

Despite a love of English literature, she did not learn Braille until she was in her forties.

'I hadn't read a single word since I was 10, but the radio was my great friend. Education was denied me because it was so visual,' she said.

After bringing up a family of four, Mrs Ibbotson took retirement from her receptionist's job at 55 and started attending 'reading for pleasure' classes at her local college, listening to the rest of the group reading extracts from literature. Encouraged by her teacher, she went on to take a GCSE in English, for which she was awarded a grade A.

A year later, despite a shoulder condition which prevented her from reading Braille, she gained a grade B at A-level and embarked on a degree course at the Bolton Institute of Higher Education.

She completes her coursework with the aid of a voice-sensitive computer and taped literature, but her marks have been good. Now she is fired with a desire to learn.

'It gives me a longing for education when I go into the library and look at all those books,' Mrs Ibbotson said. 'There is not one I can take from the shelves and read. They are all just blank pages to me,' she added.

Edith Taylor, the lecturer who encouraged her to take her studies further, nominated Mrs Ibbotson for the award.

'She is finally proving to herself and those around that she is a woman with quite incredible listening and perception skills and a very fine intellect,' she said.

(Photograph omitted)