An Cosán Virtual Community College (VCC), an innovative education initiative, aiming to increase access to further and higher education nationwide and address social inequality through online and mobile technology, was launched today, in the National Concert Hall. It was launched by VCC’s patron, renowned film-maker and Ireland’s Digital Champion, Lord David Puttnam.
VCC caters for adult learners who have not benefitted from mainstream education, and for those who wish to continue their education in an accessible and affordable way. Its unique model of blended learning leverages the latest technologies, combining a virtual classroom, online live lectures with independent activities, assignments and face-to-face sessions in community partner settings. These technology-enhanced community hubs – urban and rural – are spread across the country.
Director of VCC, Liz Waters said: “There are many barriers for people across Ireland in accessing further and higher education, ranging from rural isolation and lack of institutional access, to childcare considerations and financial issues. VCC has the power to break down these barriers and offers a unique opportunity for anyone wishing to develop their skills and achieve their full potential.
“Being able to access education is essential for social progress. We talk about the ‘one generation solution’ whereby if you educate a woman who is a lone parent to degree level, she will earn 40 per cent more than someone without a degree and she and her children will exit poverty forever. Our model of education is based on concepts of inclusion, participation, social action and capacity building – all aiming to transform lives and communities.”Speaking today, Lord Puttnam, pictured above, said: “As Ireland’s Digital Champion it is my ambition to motivate and encourage people to see the benefits of engaging with digital technologies. From tackling social isolation to improving skills and employability through offering innovative models of education – these technologies have the power to positively transform society. VCC is a fantastic initiative which has recognised the enormous potential of virtual teaching and learning methods for communities around Ireland, and which will offer life-changing education courses to adult learners for many years to come.”
Minister Naughten, congratulating VCC on its launch said, “VCC exemplifies the capacity of online and mobile technologies to bring crucial educational opportunities to citizens all around Ireland, in the comfort of their own homes. It has succeeded in removing barriers and providing ease of access to personal and professional advancement. Budget 2017 will see a significant allocation to the National Broadband Plan which reflects my priority in delivering ubiquitous high speed connectivity throughout Ireland. I wish VCC and its students every success.”
To date, more than 150 students have engaged with VCC in its pilot phase. For most students it was their first experience of both higher education and blended online learning. Earlier this month, 74 students graduated from VCC after successfully completing higher education courses.
Kerrie Prendergast, a Community Employment Supervisor from Roscommon, participated in VCC’s Citizenship and Social Action programme through community partner, Longford Women’s Link. Kerrie, aged 41 and a mother of six (aged from 5 weeks to 22 years old), found the teaching model to be very engaging and accessible. She said: “After staying at home for a few years to raise my family, I started working last year and found I needed some upskilling to keep up with demands. Initially, I found the online element very daunting and nearly didn’t participate in the first session, but after just one training session I overcame my technology phobia.
“Participating in the VCC course gave me new skills which are highly relevant to my job, and a renewed motivation and confidence to continue my education. Lack of access to education for people living in rural areas is a big problem. What’s great about this course is that, with the mixture of offline and online learning, I was able to study at home, which meant I didn’t have to worry about travel and childcare costs, and I never had to miss a class.”
VCC offers a range of introductory, further and higher education courses, including Learning to Learn at Third Level, Community Leadership, Citizenship and Social Action & Transformative Community Education. All of the higher education courses are accredited by IT Carlow, VCC’s third level collaborative partner.
VCC is supported by corporate partners: ESB shares VCC’s vision to improve access to education in communities across Ireland; Three Ireland offers its core business and employee skillset to help develop VCC’s mobile learning capability; Social Entrepreneurs Ireland provides funding as well as technical and practical business supports and mentorship; City & Guilds Foundation will fund the roll-out of a Social Entrepreneurship and Leadership programme aimed at women disadvantaged through unemployment and lack of access to further or higher education; Accenture and Versari provide support, advice and mentorship.