Folens - Supporting Equal Access to Education

Folens Publishers began supporting four students who communicate through Irish Sign Language to study a Bachelor of Education at DCU’s Institute of Education in 2019. Since then, Folens have gone on to support DCU’s Write to Read programme through donating books to participating primary schools in Ireland. In this piece, Andrew Miller, CEO of Folens, explains the motivation behind supporting these initiatives, the future of digital learning and the importance of businesses supporting the communities they operate in.

In 2019, DCU launched Ireland’s first entry route to primary teacher education for members of the Deaf community who communicate through Irish Sign Language (ISL). What motivated Folens to provide scholarship support for these students on their paths to becoming teachers?

I’m in a very fortunate position where I’m a Trustee of the Folens Giving Programme and manage the fund on behalf of the Folens Family. Each year, we look at educational projects, programmes and initiatives that matches Folens Giving’s ethos of the betterment of education in Ireland. After meeting with Claire Whelehan, Director of Philanthropy at DCU Educational Trust, the prospect of supporting these students through scholarships really resonated with us. At Folens, we’re acutely aware of the supports deaf people require in life as one of our staff members is deaf non-verbal and communicates through Irish Sign Language. However, there’s a real lack of understanding and awareness of what supports children communicating through Irish Sign Language require from an educational perspective in Ireland, so it was a natural fit for us to support these students in their effort to become future role models for children communicating through Irish Sign Language.

When schools shut their doors nationwide in March 2020 due to Covid-19, Folens gave teachers, parents and children open access to your digital resources – why is it important for businesses to support communities during these difficult times?

In this unprecedented pandemic, you have to do the right thing and support the most vulnerable in our society. From our perspective, that was supporting students, parents and teachers struggling to adjust to digital learning and teaching from home. Despite providing open access to our digital resources from April to June in 2020, this pandemic highlighted the digital divide in Ireland and the challenges our society faces in providing equal access to education. Although it takes time, money and collaboration to solve these societal issues, I believe businesses and organisations have a responsibility to support the communities they operate in and provide for, especially during these unprecedented times.

In its 60-year history, Folens has continually listened and adapted to the changing needs of teachers and students. With learning being moved from in-class to online for the first half of 2020 due to Covid-19, how do you see digital learning evolving in the future for school students and teachers? 

At Folens we have been aware of and involved in the blended learning approach for primary and secondary school students for the past number of years. In theory, the model is great, but in reality digital learning isn’t a one size fits all solution to the current challenges schools are facing in Ireland. The digital divide and large number of socio-economic disadvantaged areas in Ireland shows that for a large proportion of the student population in Ireland, digital learning isn’t a reality. For Folens, our commitment and responsibility is to provide the right blend of teaching content and learning materials, both digital and print, so that teachers and students can choose the model and approach that works best for them.

Folens  have recently committed to providing books for DCU’s Write to Read programme which improves literacy outcomes for children in DEIS primary schools. How did you first hear of Write to Read and what inspired you to support this programme?

Our Literacy and Primary Commission Teams were already aware of the good work being done by DCU’s Write to Read programme in DEIS primary schools in Dublin, so supporting Write to Read was an easy decision to make for us. We at Folens have a responsibility to level the playing field for all students in Ireland and help them as much as possible through providing curriculum aligned content and educational resources, so we were delighted to provide books to participating schools and support DCU’s mission to transform lives and societies through this programme.