Interview With Dr.Seán Rowland, President, Hibernia College (Part 1)

by admin on 27/05/2013

Dr. Seán RowlandDr. Seán Rowland, was born in Castlebar, County Mayo. Having attended St. Patrick’s College in Dublin, he taught at primary school level for five years before travelling to the US to attend Boston College. Here he was awarded a Masters Degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Administration. He then pursued and completed his Ph.D. in Curriculum Instruction and Administration (CIA) with a focus on educational finance within the CIA programme. Dr. Rowland also holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In 2000, Dr. Rowland brought together his colleagues from the corporate, education and technological communities to create Hibernia College, Ireland’s first and only, accredited online third-level institution. In 2003, the college commenced what is currently its best known programme, the Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education, training primary school teachers. At present, the programme has grown to the point where it now provides more primary school teachers each year than any other course in the country.

Seomra Ranga would like to thank Dr. Seán Rowland for unreservedly accepting the invitation to partake in the interview series on the website. He accepted the invitation without hesitation and did not request any subject area to be out of bounds for the interview. He has given very comprehensive responses (which are unedited) to the questions put to him which should generate lots of talk, discussion and debate. DQ

Seomra Ranga: Having trained in St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, you began your career as a primary school teacher. In what way has that time working in a primary school informed the work you now do in training a new generation of primary school teachers?

Seán Rowland: In the 10 years that we have been educating primary school teachers, our lives and the way we use technology to interact with others has undergone phenomenal change. The idea of an academic institution using the Internet to deliver part of its courses was unheard of. When we started, many of our students were using dial-up connections, Facebook didn’t exist before 2004, Twitter wasn’t around before 2006 and the iPhone didn’t appear until 2007. What has really informed our work is staying current. We need to meet our student teachers where they are in terms of location, capacity and context. By doing this we ensure that their skills and intellectual experiences are relevant to the pupils in the classrooms in which they teach.

Today, we have elite universities like Stanford, Harvard, MIT and Yale in a stampede to launch MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). We have just launched Ireland’s first MOOC on Exploring Irish Identity which you can find more about on our website: This trend will only continue. What will be different about our courses is hard to say; we cannot foresee what new technologies we are going to create but we remain open to all opportunities to increase our effectiveness. What will stay the same, however, will be the essence of what encapsulates a good education, and it’s really not about technology; it’s about communicating with people, inspiring them and supporting them to increase their skills and capacity to influence future generations. If technology can help us deliver that, then why would we reject it? Our focus will always continue to be on teaching, learning and research.

Seomra Ranga: The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., in an interview on Seomra Ranga, stated that “The experience of student teachers at initial teacher education level is crucial if we want them to see themselves throughout their careers as reflective, enquiry-oriented, lifelong learners, responding to the learning needs of the students in their classes”. In what way does the Hibernia College approach to Initial Teacher Education (ITE) strive to fulfil this objective of the Minister?

Seán Rowland: Being able to reflect on and evaluate one’s practice is becoming ever more important as schools are asked to engage with the Self Evaluation Guidelines from the DES; to review current practice and self-assess. Based on this reflective practice, the student teachers adapt their practice and respond to the needs of the students in their classes. Our Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education (HDAPE) programme, in accepting graduates from any discipline (as long as they hold at least a level 8 undergraduate degree), contributes significantly to students being able to consider themselves as lifelong learners.

The actual content of the programme requires students to complete reflective learning journals and diaries at numerous points on their programme, thus they develop key reflection skills, and the ability to critically analyse their work and create opportunities for ongoing improvements. Any reflective exercise that is required of them demands that they carry out an enquiry into their professional practice. Based on their reflections, students then implement an action plan that demonstrates how they are developing their pupils’ learning. This aspect of student teachers’ practice has been commended in the most recent report from our external examiners for Teaching Practice placements.

Seomra Ranga: To what extent does Hibernia College collaborate with the other teacher training colleges to ensure that there is a consistent approach to initial teacher education (ITE)?

Seán Rowland: To some extent the approach to ITE has now been ‘standardised’ by the Teaching Council with all graduates adhering to the same requirements for registration. We continue to collaborate on an ongoing basis with other Higher Education Institutions at the Teaching Council with representation on committees such as the Gaeltacht Working Group, the Education Committee and the Registration Committee. I, myself, sit on the board of the Council, representing Minister Quinn. This collaboration has been mutually beneficial for all Higher Education Institutions as best practice has been shared and consistency will be achieved going forward.

Both Hibernia College’s academic and technology staff strengthen their knowledge of current issues, practice and research as well as the opportunity and ability to engage in critical debate through presentation and attendance at conferences including those organised by SCoTENS and MoodleMoot. These links with the wider educational and elearning communities benefit both the students and the College in ensuring that faculty and staff are in dialogue with peers and are informed about the most current and relevant issues for teacher education nationally and internationally. We find that these occasions create ideal opportunities to share learning and progress.

Here is a list of the conferences that have been and will be attended by Hibernia College staff this year: Irish Learning Support Association, Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), UK Literacy Association, INTO Special Education, Gaelscoileanna, Educational Technology Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA), UKLA National Conference, INTO Annual Congress, Oxford Education Research Symposium, Ireland International Conference on Education (IICE), HECA Conference, Researching Higher Education Conference, ICT in Education Conference, The Higher Education Academy’s annual learning and teaching Arts and Humanities conference, NAIRTL Conference, Centre for Research in Life Long Learning/Standing Conference on University Teaching and Research in the Education of Adults, Changing Boundaries: Mindfulness, Spirituality and Education, European Conference on the Social Sciences, European Conference on Technology in the Classroom, European Conference on Language Learning, BERA Conference, Education Consultative Conference and MIT LINK conference.

In addition the Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Kathleen McCartney, serves on our international advisory board, as well as Lord David Treisman who holds a professorship at Cambridge University.

Seomra Ranga: After 10 years training primary school teachers, what advantage has the combination of online learning /seminar model of ITE promoted by Hibernia College over the traditional full-time undergraduate model provided by state-funded colleges?

Seán Rowland: Hibernia College attracts a diverse, highly skilled and experienced cohort of students from a wide variety of backgrounds, who without Hibernia College’s accessible, flexible and innovative approach, would otherwise be unable to return to third level education. Our students are encouraged to draw from their experiences in order to create a rich and unique learning environment in their classrooms. They can draw on their previous experience in areas such as languages, sports and science which are a huge advantage for them and for schools in terms of teaching and learning.

The combination of the online learning/seminar model of ITE contributes to the development of an innovative, adaptive and ICT literate teacher who combines traditional learning techniques with innovative ways of learning. These graduates can respond to the changing face of education as technology permeates children’s lives. Having used forums, blogs, podcasts and virtual learning classrooms as everyday tools in their own learning they should be able to present learning that is innovative and exciting for their students.

With all our classes averaging a 25:1 student:tutor ratio, student teachers receive far greater access to their tutors than in a traditional setting. They are also encouraged to develop their relationships with their tutors through email and on the online forums.

Our tutorials are very interactive and participatory, with all student teachers prepared in advance from engagement with their online lessons and come ready to engage. Additionally all our online tutorials are recorded and made available on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) system so student teachers can return to them to assist them in their learning and to aid them when writing an assignment or preparing for exams and research.

Seomra Ranga: In an interview on “Education Matters” you said that, “We expect a world-class graduate for parochial money. Irish people have to be educated to the level of their peers … we are one generation away from being mediocre.” In what way do you believe this to still be the case?

Seán Rowland: I have worked in a number of countries worldwide over the past 30 years, particularly in teacher education. We have been fortunate to retain high quality personnel in the teaching profession across the country. Some countries have allowed this quality to diminish and now pockets of society have better teachers than others in those countries. Finance continues to be an issue. However we cannot be financing colleges that are only open for half the year. And if we have thousands of researchers where are the thousands of publications? Pointing the finger at a particular college president or department head is not the answer. Many older institutions have legacy costs, while many institutions have also diversified from education into the business of housing, food and beverage, leisure facility among other provisions. The key focus for third level institutions, whether providing teachers, doctors, lawyers or engineers, is the trinity of teaching, learning and research.

Seomra Ranga: The most frequent topic for questions suggested by teachers on Seomra Ranga was the issue of the number of primary teachers that Hibernia College is training. Can it be justified to continue with that level of intake when so many graduate teachers are still looking for employment?

Seán Rowland: There is always an option to decrease the liability on the tax payer as Hibernia College student teachers pay for their own education. However, available data suggests that there will continue to be significant employment potential for newly qualified primary school teachers from September 2016 onwards. In 2015 there will be no B.Ed. graduating class from Colleges of Education as a result of the extension of the B.Ed. from three to four years. This will result in a shortage of up to 1000 newly qualified teachers.

In the period 2014 to 2020, the Central Statistics Office estimates the primary school pupil population will increase by 52,000 from 539,517 to 591,472. At a mainstream class pupil teacher ratio of 28 to 1, this represents significant additional teaching posts over and above the normal replacement rate in the profession.

Official published statistics from CSO and the Teaching Council indicate that 9,329 newly qualified primary school teachers will be required in the next 5 years to make up for those leaving the profession and the increase primary school population. The publicly funded colleges will graduate 4,696 newly qualifies primary school teachers in the same time period. At post-primary level the figures are 8,585 and 6,304 respectively. Therefore, there is a very strong demand for newly qualified teachers over the next 4 years.

Each year, according to the Teaching Council, 1360 primary school teachers leave the profession as a result of retirement or other reasons. In addition, in each of the next 5 years an additional 506 teachers are needed to meet the needs of the demographic explosion in primary school enrolments. Thus this State must produce 1866 newly qualified primary school teachers each year to avoid a teacher shortage.

Currently the privately owned, State funded Colleges of Education produce 1174 newly qualified teachers per year at a total cost of over €45m to the taxpayer. That is an average of €38,330 per teacher. An additional 693 primary school teachers are needed each year. Hibernia College can supply 693 highly qualified and highly sought after graduate teachers at ZERO cost to the taxpayer. To ask the other private Colleges (the State funded ones) to provide an additional 693 teachers would cost the taxpayer an additional €26.5m.

Within the EU, the teaching qualification is recognised as equivalent to the initial teaching qualification of any member State. There is no doubt that a minority of our graduates seek employment in England, where recent reports suggest a shortage in primary school teachers, and further afield, for example in the United Arab Emirates, where highly qualified EU teaching qualifications can command a significant tax free salary.

In summary, the demographic explosion in Ireland, coupled with the short term shortage in the number of newly qualified teachers resulting from new Teaching Council requirements, and the increasing international demand for Irish trained teachers, results in a highly favourable employment outlook for our graduates. We have no concerns that, even at the maximum enrolments projected, our graduates will not find it difficult to secure employment in the teaching profession.

As An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D. observed:

International demand for the education services of Hibernia College is growing rapidly and it is the wider world that offers such huge growth opportunities…There currently is a shortage estimated at 16 million teachers around the world so the scope for Hibernia is enormous…If we’re not the traditional island of saints and scholars we can certainly be the island of scholars and export that potential to places around the globe that may not have heard of Ireland yet, but they should beware because Hibernia is coming their way.

Seomra Ranga: Hibernia College currently charges students €8,950 to pursue the Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education and this fee is, according to the Hibernia website, likely to increase to €9,950 from September 2013. Does this fee provide good value for money, or better value for money than state-funded Colleges of Education?

Hibernia College’s teaching programmes represent outstanding value on a number of levels:

 Our blended learning approach offers great flexibility to our student teachers. Unlike those who choose traditional educators, Hibernia College students can work while they study and therefore do not suffer salary sacrifice while they complete their studies.

 Hibernia College students can train to become a teacher from the comfort of their own homes and towns thereby avoiding costly relocation expenses and exorbitant city rents.

 The Higher Diploma in Arts and Primary Education (HDAPE) and Professional Diploma in Education (PDE) courses are relatively short with a graduate able to qualify to teach in just 2 years. Other professional conversion courses, for example law and accountancy, require students to complete up to 3.5 years of articled service while they complete their studies.

 In her background paper for the International Review Team 2012, Dr Áine Hyland examined the cost per capita across the five, publicly-funded, colleges of education for primary teachers. Interestingly, in 2011, three of these colleges returned average per capita costs of €12,715. Our HDAPE course fees for the same year were €8,950. This cannot be good news to the tax-payer who is left to wonder, exactly why it costs 42% more to train a teacher in a state-funded institution. How could you argue against our value for money, and our saving to the exchequer?

 Increases can be expected across all Higher Education Institutions as the cost of living increases and cuts to grants are introduced. One significant increase is the fee students must now pay for their Gaeltacht Placement. The fee will increase to reflect the additional week students spend in the Gaeltacht. The current fee for our 3 week course is only €425 while students in other colleges are paying c.€800 per 2 week block which amounts to €1,600 in total. Although the fees currently payable by our students will increase in 2015 we will continue to achieve value for money for them through our tendering and review processes.

 Hibernia College offer scholarships to many students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. These scholarships allow students to attend while they pay for part of the tuition fee or no tuition fee. This further increases value for money and time as well as give access to a broader group of qualified students.

Part 2 of this interview will be published next week.

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