The Presentation Sisters have established Ireland’s first online school, iScoil, for students who are disengaged from the traditional education system.
iScoil is aimed at students aged from 13 to 16 who have not attended school for at least six months and have had other interventions which did not work. It currently has 50 learners located in Dublin, the East Coast, Limerick, Galway and Longford.
Michael Hallissy, director of learning at the Digital Hub in Dublin and a founding partner with H2 Learning, said that the model was inspired by other global initiatives.
“The Presentation Sisters, when they were relooking at their mission, they decided that they wanted to focus on inclusion and they were looking at including young people who were currently not in schools,” said Hallissy.
“They had identified a particular model that they found in the UK called Notschool and they approached them to bring it to Ireland.”
Technology and flexible learning
The technological focus of the project not only appeals to the computer-savvy minds of young students but also gives greater flexibility in the learning experience.
“Online education can personalise the learning experience for these young people so it can allow them to engage in a form of learning, as most of these students are disengaged from school,” said Hallissy.
“The job of iScoil is to reengage them with learning and we focus on using the web so they can follow their interests. It’s very much focused on passion-based learning so they can personalise and they can work at their own pace and their own time.”
As many of the students have become alienated with the current structured education system due to bullying, mental health issues or their own personal reasons, I asked Hallissy whether iScoil was focused on getting them back into the system or if the students could avail of alternative programs.
“A lot of the young people who are referred to iScoil by the National Education Welfare Board are people who are outside the education system so the first thing in the process is to reengage them with learning,” said Hallissey.
“Ultimately our goal is to try and get them back into the formal school system. But in some cases this isn’t possible, they may have mental health issues or phobias, so we try and give them alternative programs, such as FETAC accreditation at levels 3 (which is Junior Cert level) and 4”
Hallissy has said that the feedback for the project has been phenomenal and it has really helped students move on with their lives and progress with their education.
“One parent said that they were at their wits end as their child had been bullied badly at school, forcing the child out of the school system,” he said.
“I think it was fair to say that the child was in danger of taking her own life at this stage and the parents found that by going to iScoil and getting her reconnected with school, the child has found meaning and purpose in her life.”
While iScoil has been a big help for students disengaged with school, Hallissy believes it could be used for other purposes within the education system.
“I do think in Ireland, online schooling is something we need to be looking at particularly within the Department of Education and Science and exploring all possibilities around online school as it does provide customisation of young people’s learning and that is to be welcomed,” he said.
The programme is moving into the next stage of development and is seeking accreditation, after a three year pilot programme. Sr Anne Marie Quinn of the Presentation Sisters is currently lobbying to have iScoil accredited as a valid model of education provision.