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Opinion: A virtual college changed my life and my family's future

I’m a single mother of four who was once homeless but now I’m working and studying for a degree. I want to let everyone know about An Cosán Virtual Community College, writes Róisín Kelly

Róisín Kelly

I LEFT SCHOOL at 15 years old before completing my Junior Cert, because I became pregnant.

I loved being pregnant and having a family, and that is what I chose to do. But after a string of bad luck myself and my four children found ourselves living in extreme poverty and at one point we even became homeless.

I could not see any way out for my family and I despaired at the thought of my children growing up in abject poverty. This took a heavy toll on my confidence and
mental health, driving us all into a deeper cycle of isolation.

Part of the problem I faced was getting work that was the right fit for me.

I ended up raising four kids on my own and so I had to work to put food on the table. But the only jobs I could get were casual jobs in bars and restaurants.

There is nothing wrong with low-skilled work but I knew I wanted more for my future than a lifetime of shift-work and zero hour contracts. I knew I had more in me, but I was excluded from developing a real career because I didn’t have a degree or even a Leaving Cert.

I always knew that I was capable of more than that I knew I was smart, but I felt trapped. 

The ‘recovery’

I saw so many of my friends and family members turn their lives around and start to really prosper in the booming economy in recent years, but this wasn’t happening to me and my children.

We weren’t benefiting from what everyone was calling ‘the recovery’. It felt like the ladder had been pulled up behind everyone who was doing well and that we were shut out and isolated.

In 2016, things started to change. I was introduced to a new initiative, An Cosán Virtual
Community College (VCC) which was starting a pilot in partnership with my local Southend Family Resource Centre where I work part time as an administrator.

An Cosán VCC is a community education organisation that offers foundation, further and higher education to communities across Ireland. Two years on, I am now in the second year of my degree course in Leadership and Community Development. 

An Cosán VCC provides online modules that allow me to overcome the barriers that had previously prevented me from access to education. I can schedule my learning around my kids and around work, because most of it is done online. 

Sometimes I end up writing essays at midnight and beyond it. It’s hard to fit it all in at times, but it’s more than worth it.

I attend live online sessions once a week in Southend Family Resource Centre
through the blended online model that An Cosán VCC has developed.

The method of learning is really convenient and the course is accredited by Carlow IT. I can’t believe I’m getting a degree, while raising kids and working -  I never thought that would be possible.

My children are growing up and are now aged, 21, 16, 9 and 7 so when I finish my degree I hope to get a full time job in the community sector.  

The rise in economic circumstances of many families in Ireland is a welcome development but we cannot leave single-parent families behind. There is a worrying divide in our society where only some of our families are benefiting from the rise in the economy and others excluded.

For too long women like me have been excluded from reaching their potential because they chose to become mothers. We must not allow families like mine to be forgotten.

Róisín is a student at An Cosán Virtual Community College and she wrote this piece to highlight their ethos of the One Generation Solution.

The One Generation Solution aims to break the cycle of poverty, says Liz Waters, CEO of An Cosán Virtual Community College. The best way to eradicate child poverty permanently is by supporting their mother to get a higher level education, she says. “Mothers have a disproportionate influence on their family’s outcomes. If a mother is doing well, the whole family will flourish,” says Waters. 

An Cosán’s three year degrees typically cost €2,200 per year. That works out at just €6 per day to lift a family out of poverty, she says.

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Róisín Kelly

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