In for a dime, in for a dollarOverseas-education | Crystal Wu 12 Jan 2021
Almost a year into the pandemic, schools around the world have been adapting to the new normal and perfecting their strategies for remote learning. Drawing from this experience, one Scottish school has decided to take its online education a step further and bring free classes to students around the world.
The initial idea behind Dollar Discovers had nothing to do with the pandemic. Instead, the original aim was to provide a physical space in the school for students across Scotland to take courses that were not provided in their own schools.
The plan took an unexpected turn when the pandemic forced schools to move their classes online. However, this came with a silver lining: the change meant the program could cater for more students, especially those living in rural areas, as it overcame the physical limitations of face-to-face learning.
"Dollar Discovers is a way of supporting a broader number of students from throughout the country who perhaps otherwise wouldn't be able to access a Dollar education," said Ian Munro, the rector of Dollar Academy.
As the oldest coeducational day and boarding school in the world, Dollar Academy also provides the widest range of Scottish Qualifications Authority subjects in the country, which includes microbiology, astronomy and philosophy.
"The modules are all designed by teachers at the school who follow their passion or professional interest," explained Munro.
"For example, we run a really good medical microbiology course, and that's because we have biology teachers who are interested in medicine and they run them."
Knowing that not every school has the resources or manpower to provide these courses, Munro came up with the idea for Dollar Discovers.
"It is part of our commitment to public benefit and civic duty," he said.
He explained that the school "reinvests in education and our students" and is an educational charity at its core, rather than a for-profit venture.
"What we've done is taken some of our SQA courses and put them online so that young people throughout Scotland from low-income backgrounds or difficult circumstances can study on that online platform."
The inaugural Dollar Discovers Higher Politics SQA course has around 40 students from throughout the highlands and lowlands attending.
These students will graduate with a grade like any other SQA subject taught in Scottish schools after sitting a normal examination at their own school.
"This is really exciting - it's the first time that any school has done anything like it," Munro added, stressing that Dollar Discovers is a free of charge, open-source platform to help young people to learn more about the world around them.
The Dollar Discover program also looks beyond the Scottish examination structure and provides interdisciplinary courses for students who may not be studying in the Scottish education system.
"We have actually started building with the industry some short courses that tackle the UN sustainability goals," Munro said.
"The UN sustainability goals cover things from environmental stewardship to challenging inequity and poverty, and we think they are very important."
He also believes that students want not just examination qualifications from their education, but also real-life experience from working with employers.
Their first two courses in this area, called Discovery Courses, are Activist Fashion, endorsed by Scottish fashion brand Johnstons of Elgin, and Architecture for Wellbeing. Students from these courses will get a completion certificate accredited by the industry.
"In terms of ages, our current SQA course is open to students aged over 16. Discovery courses are open to all ages, but the two current courses offered are best suited for 14 to 18-year-olds," the school explained.
While the program is still in its prototype days, it has undoubtedly generated attention from the community. Munro revealed that they have received interest from Russell Group universities in cocreating courses that carry direct university endorsement.
He also said that the upcoming courses are being built alongside industry and academic experts from the outset, providing feedback on what the industry lacks in real life to the courses' design.
"The ambition is that people globally will be able to study on this platform as we populate with more courses."
The next batch of courses will be launched in April, and students across the world are welcome to register for Discovery Courses on www.dollardiscovers.org