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‘No one teaches you how to learn,’ says Cillian

“NO one teaches you how to learn,” according to Cillian Fahy who found fame two years ago when he sold his Leaving Cert notes on online auction site Ebay. Here he speaks to The Clare Champion about his latest project, an internet education service launching next week and pays tribute to his former teachers in Gort Community School.

Cillian is programme co-ordinator for OnlineGrinds.ie, a new website offering web-based grinds to second-level students. The website was founded by Paul Stenson, a graduate of Shannon College of Hotel Management.
“I was approached by the team there, Paul and the other colleagues. They pitched the website to me as an idea. They had seen my exploits. They pitched it to me as something new and exciting and the place where Irish education is going. That was something I agreed with because I do think we are heading into an education online sort of area whereby in the next five to 10 years most education will be done online,” Cillian outlines.

“Equally, they pitched it to me that this would democratise the whole grinds system. Grinds are usually for people who can afford them and people who are near to them. If you are in Dublin, you are sorted but if in Clare, maybe not so much. That was something that appealed to me,” he explains.

Cillian’s role involves two key areas, one is offering his perspective as a recent Leaving Cert student and as a current learner, the other is in selecting teachers for the online grinds service.

“I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of teachers and I have been critical and asked ‘could I learn from them?’, ‘do they excite me?’, ‘am I bored?’ and whether they are the best teachers in the country,” he says.

It is this experience that informs Cillian’s perception that there is a problem in the Irish approach to teaching.

“If I am sitting watching a teacher who is boring, we are not going to hire them but also, I am looking at them saying, ‘this is not someone I can learn from’. Teachers’ notes and presentation was generally fine but it was the delivery of those that was lacking in a lot of cases. There were a number of quite good teachers and some really excellent ones but for me, overall, the process was a negative shock. One of the things it did do, was make me realise how good the teachers in Gort were.”

The English literature student believes there has been a change in the way information is disseminated and absorbed by young people but this has not been sufficiently reflected in education.

“I think students’ needs have changed and they need a performance now. We are competing with YouTube and social media but we were really selective in picking teachers who can give it socks. I think part of the problem is the system’s fault because there seems to be such a focus on having the information and having the notes and all that exam content but not on ‘how will I teach it?’ The best teachers were the ones who were interested in education and thought consciously about the fact they are performing and educating and that there was someone on the receiving end of what they were saying. I realise I am being a little negative but we were putting teachers in an unusual position in that we took some teachers out of their comfort zone, and put them in front of a camera. In a sense that is what OnlineGrinds.ie is all about – taking education out of its comfort zone and into a new space.”

Cillian believes there is a fundamental flaw in our perspective on the learning process here in Ireland and further afield.

“It is really simple. No one teaches you how to learn. You go into an classroom and you are given information to learn but no one ever tells you ‘here is the best way to learn’. That means we are less focused on students learning the information or teachers communicating it in a meaningful way. I am not sure how much focus is put on that in teaching colleges but to me it would appear they need to do more,” he comments.
The concept of OnlineGrinds.ie is not just a website, according to Cillian, it endeavours to be a community.
“We are also building something of a community in that we have an online forum and students are interacting there. We have it set up whereby students can ask teachers questions. But what is happening there is that students are coming in and answering other students’ questions so it is quite a productive atmosphere, I think,” he adds.
Cillian is currently studying for a BA English Literature at Trinity College, and a BSc in Politics and International Relations with The London School of Economics. With the launch of OnlineGrinds.ie, he finds himself a busy man.
“I am always very busy. I am fitting it all in, just about. It has been chock-a-bloc with studying and OnlineGrinds.ie and I try to have a social life too. I am fitting it in, but just about,” he concludes.


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