The Virtual Community College is a new initiative that combines the tailored support of community education with the low-cost of online learning, improving the outcomes for families and communities struggling to deal with poverty.
Educational inequality remains a significant and substantial problem in Ireland, with research showing particularly high levels of educational disadvantage in communities struggling with poverty. With more than 750,000 people now living in poverty in Ireland, the economic crisis threatens to isolate an entire generation from the opportunities of a quality third-level education. While cost can often be a deterrent, other factors such as childcare and location of educational institutions all play a role in preventing an individual from engaging with the system. Although education continues to be revolutionised by technology, those with a poor history of education struggle to access information online without the structure of a facilitated learning environment. As a result, the technological revolution in education has failed to improve the outcomes for those that need them most.
As CEO of An Cosán, Elizabeth has always recognised the power of education to lift whole families out of poverty. Having overseen a major period of development for the organisation, Elizabeth is stepping aside after 13 years in charge to commit herself full-time to the development of the Virtual Community College, a new initiative that combines the tailored support of community education with the low-cost of online learning. Making the curriculum available through an online platform, the Virtual Community College provides local facilitators to deliver the coursework in a community setting, no matter where in the country that might be. This approach doesn’t just provide increased access to educational opportunities for disadvantaged communities, but actually improves the quality of learning outcomes for those who participate.
To date Virtual Community College has supported almost 70 individuals in obtaining their first ever third level qualification. Spread across five centres in Dublin, Clare, Limerick, Longford, and Roscommon, Virtual Community College is training tutors as well as upskilling individuals, enabling the organisation to deliver on its mission of eliminating poverty through education provision. With these early successes under her belt, Elizabeth is now ready to scale this solution to the national level. Aiming to work with over 300 students in 2016, Elizabeth is on course to provide an information-age solution to one of Ireland’s most entrenched social problems.
It has been an unimagined growth experience for me and for the VCC. I have learned so much from the SEI team and from the other Awardees.