Offbeat

By Hannah McFadyen


It’s the dream of schoolchildren everywhere – this is one of the world’s first classrooms where there is NO TEACHER.

This incredible new type of school allows classes of children to have lessons with a virtual teacher via video link.

It’s currently being rolled out on remote Scottish islands, where schools often struggle to recruit teachers.

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The lessons range from Gaelic to Music and take place through a couple of cameras that allow the children to see the teacher and vice versa.

Using iPads to study, the children’s work can be viewed by the teacher and assessed in real time.

Lessons have been rolled out across the Western Isles in Scotland, but they’re growing in popularity.

They’re set to make it easier for smaller schools on remote islands where teachers are harder to come by and budgeting can be an issue.

The e-school will give more variation in lessons – allowing children to learn various instruments and subjects that were not previously available.

E-Sgoil, which means E-School in Gaelic, was piloted in August 2016 and since then has grown to a platform of 14 teachers that work across eight local authorities.

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It was set up with the help of the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, though it now runs as a business.

Head teacher of e-Sgoil Angus MacLennan, 53, says that though there has been teething problems, they’ve had lots of success.

Angus, from Harris, Scotland said: “Nationally there’s challenge to find teachers in various subjects – it seems there are less people going in for teaching as a career though we are beginning to see an upturn.

“It’s a problem that’s amplified on smaller islands  sometimes has added transport costs – sometimes flying or ferrying a teacher across.

“Even if they have the core teacher, they might not have someone able to teach music or modern studies – its bout giving choice in a cost effective way.

“The children don’t see the obstacles that maybe some older people do – it’s such a digital age today that I think it’s easy for them to get used to it.

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“Teachers can monitor the behaviour through the screen and see what the children are writing on and if they’re younger than 16 then there will be a teacher in the rooms.

Despite the fact that teacher isn’t physically in the room, Angus says that children misbehaving hasn’t been an issue.

“To date we’ve had very few incidences of misbehaviour – I could count them on one hand, mostly the students who elect to do this kind of thing want to do it and make progress.

While most of the teachers are based on the Western Isles, lessons have been taught from as far away as India.

“On one occasion we had lessons delivered from India – another teacher someone else went to Lisbon on holiday and taught a lesson from his hotel room there.

“We’ve taken a person on who’s moving to Spain in August and she’ll be teaching back to the school from Spain.

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“I’m not pretending that it’s the perfect solution – It’s another tool in the educational box and it’s grown a lot more quickly than we thought it would grow.

“We’re concentrating on real time interactive teaching and teachers can be used across multiple schools and so one school doesn’t have to bear the cost.

“We’re not claiming it’s going to replace teachers, but for the smaller schools where it’s not economically viable to have a full time staff member, it can be useful – Gaelic teachers are very hard to come by.”