The teaching of Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies to pupils in the Western Isles by a teacher on holiday in Portugal, and the continuation of fiddle lessons for a keen Comhairle nan Eilean Siar pupil temporarily relocated for family reasons in Malaysia, are just two examples of the flexibility that an innovative on-line project has brought to education services in the Western Isles.
The e-sgoil project, which provides interactive video-based lessons using the web and cloud-based services from bases in Stornoway and Carinish, North Uist, was originally developed by the Comhairle with the aim of ensuring equity in subject choice for pupils attending schools in the Western Isles irrespective of their geographic location and addressing issues of teacher recruitment.
But, the idea has proved so popular that the project has seen a ten-fold increase in the number of pupils using the service since it was established in 2016, and the number of courses offered has risen in the same time from an initial 13 to more than 80 this year.
Additional funding received from the Scottish Government, the Northern Alliance and Bord na Gaidhlig enabled the service to expand and offer its courses to other local authorities in Scotland experiencing the same issues.
The service now supports the delivery of education to more than fourteen local authorities across Scotland, and a spokesperson for the Comhairle said that the service had enabled the authority: “to widen the curricular offer across all secondary schools and create employment opportunities for teachers in remote, rural locations and those who may not able to work in a normal school environment”.
The teaching of Gaelic is prominent in e-sgoil’s subject offer, and the service enabled children in Argyll and Bute to receive lessons in the language, and some Spanish from a teacher based in Spain.
Fiddle lessons were also delivered from India to the e-sgoil network whilst one of it teachers was working in the country.
The Comhairle confirmed that the 600-plus pupils now using the service includes those that are being taught through e-learning for full SQA courses, for medium to long term emergency cover and for ‘curricular enrichment’ purposes.
Unconfirmed reports claim that Arabic and Mandarin are being added to the portfolio of subjects offered through e-sgoil in the coming year.
E-sgoil charges other local authorities the service at cost plus 10 per-cent cover administration, management and IT support costs.