A virtual triumph for Granard and Longford as An Cosán brings higher education opportunities to the community

An Cosán Virtual Community College (VCC), is an innovative education initiative, aiming to increase access to further and higher education nationwide and address social inequality through online and mobile technology. The presentation of Awards for the Class of 2016/17 took place at a special event in St Catherine’s Church Thomas Street, Dublin 8 last Saturday (25.11.2017).

Thirty-four students attended the awards representing a total of 167 students from across Ireland who engaged in education last year. These students represent VCC learning communities in Limerick, Longford, Wicklow, Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Laois, Derry, Donegal & Mayo. The programmes awarded on the day include both introduction and higher education accredited programmes (QQI level 6 & 7) made possible through a collaborative partnership with Carlow IT. Programmes awarded included Introduction to Community Development, Introduction to Community Drugs Work, Learning to Learn at Third Level, Community Leadership, Transformative Community Education, Citizenship and Social Action, and Introduction to Social Enterprise Development.

In attendance on the day included Guest Speakers Professor Judith Harford, Director, Professional Master of Education, University College Dublin, Joe Collins, Head of Faculty, Lifelong Learning, Institute of Technology, Carlow.

Speaking at the Awards event, CEO of An Cosán VCC, Liz Waters said: “I stand here in recognition of your achievements and steps back into further and higher education. This lights my life when I know we have students being supported right across the country. 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.”

She added: “This was the dream that has been cherished by the two women who co-founded this organisation. I want to acknowledge the work of our co-founders Dr Katherine Zappone and Dr Ann Louise Gilligan who sadly passed away earlier this year. Their dream and their vision that education is something that enables us to dream of what ought to be at a personal, at a political and at a spiritual level. This was their dream that they started out in West Tallaght and I think they would be so proud today so see that dream shared right across Ireland.”

Speaking about our community partnerships Liz Waters added: “We do not go on this journey alone. I want to recognise the Family Resources Centres, the ETB’s and the Partnership Companies and other social enterprises that work in community partnership with us right across the country. This dream which has come to life for our organisation, could not happen without the support of our collaborative partnershipwith IT Carlow. They are creative, supportive and walk that extra mile because their commitment is aligned to ours to make higher education available right across Ireland to communities who do not have

Speaking at the event, Joe Collins, Head of Faculty, Lifelong Learning Carlow IT said: “We are very proud to validate the work of An Cosán because together we share a set of values that enables us to build a society which is at its core both ethical and inclusive.” Speaking to the students, Joe added: ”You have the knowledge and the capacity to make a difference in your workplace, your communities, your society and the broader world. Your education should foster a sense of courage and confidence so that you can speak out when you see something wrong or see a better way of doing things. Your education should help you to reach out to those who are disadvantaged enabling them to turn new corners, find better pathways and
emerge from the shadows of exclusion into futures of new possibilities and fulfilled potential.”

The Longford Connection:
An Cosán Virtual Community College (VCC) has developed a community partnership with Lus na Gréine Family Resource Centre in Granard. Guided and supported by Eileen Finan, Coordinator at the centre, the partnership started in 2016 when 10 participants enrolled in a 10-week accredited (QQI Level 6) blended online programme in Learning to Learn at Third Level. This programme is designed to support learners to develop skills and confidence in preparing for education at third level. Students explore a range of different learning styles and are introduced to academic reading and writing; reading techniques and strategies; planning, structuring, writing assignments and using academic conventions. An Cosán VCC tutors delivered the two face to face workshops in Lus na Gréine and learners logged in each week for their 2 hour live online class. Participants were supported within their community with the wonderful support of the team at Lus na Gréine.

These 10 learners attended the Presentation of Awards event in Dublin on Saturday 25 th November to receive their Certificates in Learning to Learn at Third Level.

Speaking about the programme, Eileen Finan, Centre Coordinator at Lus na Gréine Family Resource Centre said: “We are delighted and very proud of this group of learners who have worked so hard to achieve these results. We were looking for a third level qualification for our participants in Granard and we were particularly interested in Community Leadership programmes because we wanted to engage new community leaders in the area. We have done lots of other courses in Granard over the years but this is the first time we have completed a third level course from within our community in the Lus na Gréine Family Resource Centre. This opportunity with VCC has given people the confidence and motivation to want to continue onto further third level education. One person is already doing further students in NUI Maynooth and others are keen to continue with VCC programmes. There is a great need in Granard because we are so far removed from third level institutions. This opportunity means so much to individuals who cannot access traditional third level institution’s due to the many barriers that exist e.g. no access to childcare, transport or funding. Longford has the lowest level of third level engagement in the country so it is very important that this issue is addressed. An Cosán VCC provides this added dimension and removes all these barriers as learners can access higher education literally on their doorstep. This has been a key factor in the success of the course. I have also witnessed the bond and friendships that have developed between the learners, as a direct result of the course. Lus na Gréine were able to provide the supportive environment and space where the learners could come together each week to meet and access computers for the live online class. The weekly sessions created bonds that extended beyond the classroom and its wonderful when you hear that people are continuing to meet up in the local library. The group have a vision to progress on to further studies with VCC or other colleges. I look forward to continuing this partnership with VCC well into the future.”

In addition to our partnership with Lus na Gréine Family Resource Centre, An Cosán VCC also partner with Longford Women’s Link who have provided the space and supportive environment for learners in Longford town to engage in online learning from within their community. 

An Cosán VCC are currently enrolling for programmes starting in January 2018.

Anyone interested in joining a VCC programme in Lus na Gréine Family Resource Centre can contact Eileen Finan, Co-ordinator on 043 6660977 or email or for Longford Women’s Link contact Pamela Latimer on 043 3341511.

To contact An Cosán VCC directly to find out more information about any of the programmes email or phone 01 5341847.

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