The nationwide impact of e-Sgoil since being launched in August 2016 has created such interest from other authorities – now eight in total – that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is covering the costs of the project out of its income from providing services to their schools, Mr Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education and Children's Services, told the Partnership Event at the Cabarfeidh Hotel last Thursday (November 16).
Although e-Sgoil teaching takes place electronically, it is still done directly, with a teacher “in front” of a classroom at all times. Thanks to new digital tools, children can do work online in one school, while their teacher at another school can see it and make comments on it in real-time. The e-Sgoil has its own headteacher and staff to provide its service and one teacher has already returned to live on the Islands to work with the project.
e-Soil has meant, for instance, students in Sir E Scott wishing to study Higher Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Education can be taught remotely by staff at The Nicolson Institute, while students in Uig were taught fiddle classes from e-Sgoil on Francis Street.
The staff at e-Sgoil have also been using this style of digital learning to assist mainland schools with their need for Gaelic teachers; in the first school year, this included locations as far afield as Aberdeen and Bishopbriggs. The exam pass rate for children taught either full or part time by e-Sgoil in these cases is 95.8 per cent - significantly higher than the national average, which sits at 77 per cent.
And, while e-Sgoil is providing a service for local and mainland schools, it is also creating employment opportunities and giving people the chance to live and work in the Western Isles.
Richard Tarves, the e-Sgoil Business Manager, gave a series of presentations at the Partnership Event. He looked at the background to the project and its progress, including the increased local availability of teaching in various subjects, such as music lessons being available from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and the addition of Spanish teaching. He emphasised the excellent results gained by the pupils involved and the way they engaged well with the teachers, even though they were appearing in the classrooms via a screen.
Mr Chisholm said that they set up e-Sgoil to ensure “greater equality of opportunity so that children from Barra that wanted a course only available in The Nicolson could get it, so that staff surplus time which we had in Harris could be used in The Nicolson.” This was also generating employment opportunities on the Islands.
e-Sgoil aims to provide a wider and more equitable choice of subjects for pupils across all secondary schools in the Western Isles; to support the expansion of Gaelic medium education locally and nationally; to develop a network of staff who are able to deliver online learning in all subject areas throughout Scotland; and to engage with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s workforce planning strategy in relation to adult learning and Modern Apprenticeships.