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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The government wants people of all ages to feel they have access to learning"
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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 16:03 GMT
Learning is good for your health

Malcolm Wicks holding painting, sitting next to Fred Moore
Malcolm Wicks chatted to Fred Moore, 107, about his artwork

The government has launched a competition to find England's oldest learner as a survey suggests that learning has health benefits.

No one can afford to stop learning when they leave school.
Malcolm Wicks

Cash prizes are being offered to the oldest student in the country, as well as the "most inspiring" older learner.

The Department for Education said on Wednesday that research findings showed a clear link between education and good health.

A survey of more than 300 people, aged 50 to 71, carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies, found that 74% who said their health was excellent or very good were engaged in some form of learning.

Eight out of 10 learners reported a positive impact of learning on either life enjoyment, self-confidence, self-esteem, or their "ability to cope".

Life satisfaction

Nearly half of them linked continuing study with an increased willingness to take responsibility for their lives.

And nearly three out of 10 reported more involvement in social, community or voluntary activities as a result of learning.

I feel far more alive than I ever did
Iris Fewkes

The survey found ill health was a barrier to learning, but a higher proportion of those still studying despite ill health reported better life satisfaction than learners in good health.

One older learner, 75-year-old Iris Fewkes, decided to learn how to use computers.

Now, having gained five qualifications, she runs her own computer training classes.

Iris Fewkes Iris Fewkes: "It's something positive to do"

She said: "I got started because I needed a challenge, and I've accepted the challenge, and it's made every difference.

"I feel far more alive than I ever did."

In December, LifeLong Learning Minister Malcolm Wicks hailed a 107-year-old learner as an example to the nation.

He visited Fred Moore, of New Milton, Hampshire, who had been attending art classes in the town once a week for more than 25 years.

Coping with change

On Wednesday, Mr Wicks said: "The research published today demonstrates the value of learning and how it can benefit older people in more ways than one.

"This is why I have launched my campaign and why I want to encourage people to take up learning at all ages.

"I want learning opportunities to open up new avenues for everyone from the youngest to the oldest. No one can afford to stop learning when they leave school.

elderly man using computer People can learn new skills at any age

"Whether learning for work or for pleasure, people need to keep learning at different stages throughout their lives to cope with the pace of change in the 21st century."

The Department for Education will give learning vouchers worth 500 to the oldest and the most inspiring older learner in England.

Vouchers worth 250 will go to 18 regional winners. The prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in May.

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See also:
30 Dec 99 |  Education
Student, 107, is still learning
28 Dec 99 |  Education
Games levy to fund adult learning?
21 Sep 99 |  Education
Pensioner struggles with university fees

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