An electrical engineer from Sandsound has become one of the longest-serving devotees of distance learning.
James Smith, 55, has signed up for two new computer courses with ICS (International Correspondence Schools) making it almost 30 years since he started studying with the Glasgow-based distance learning provider.
Mr Smith is unable to remember exactly how many courses he has completed with ICS because he has been studying with them for so long. However, he does remember signing up in the late 1970s after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper, possibly The Shetland Times.
He said: “As an electronic engineer I’ve always wanted to keep myself up to date with developments in radio, television and now computer maintenance. Home study with ICS has been brilliant because I’ve been able to continue working while I’ve learned new skills to help me in my job.”
Mr Smith works for Bolts Shetland Ltd in Lerwick and is also a retained firefighter which involves regular week-night training. Distance learning has allowed him to fit his studies around his busy schedule. And although he works with computers he admits that he still writes all his course work by hand.
He added: “I am a bit old fashioned in that respect, but I enjoy writing.”
ICS managing director Sally Pulvertaft was full of admiration for what Mr Smith had achieved.
She said: “James shows just how valuable distance learning can be to people who live off the mainland. Access to adult learning can be difficult in certain areas so being able to learn in your own home, in your own time and at your own pace is extremely valuable. ICS is delighted that James has continued to study with us for all these years. He’s an example to us all.”
Ms Pulvertaft said ICS had recently launched a major UK education campaign. Starting in Glasgow under the banner Educating Glasgow, it was the pilot for a national campaign that ICS intended to roll out across the whole of the UK to promote the value of flexible learning in the downturn.
She said: “We want to encourage everyone to think about how to improve their skills and qualifications. With college admissions rocketing and more people worrying about their job security, distance learning is a cost-effective and practical solution that people aren’t always aware of.”
A recent survey carried out by ICS showed that 40 per cent of adults in the UK engaged in some kind of study over the last year and 25 per cent would use distance learning if they could find the right course. Only eight per cent of those questioned said they preferred to learn face-to-face.
Keith Dickinson, former assistant principal of Edinburgh Napier University, who chairs the ICS academic board, said: “This campaign is a really positive step. It is all about broadening educational possibilities through flexible learning. It’s also about giving people who might not normally get this opportunity the chance to study successfully and hence boost their self esteem and enhance their career prospects.”
ICS has been based in Glasgow for the past 34 years, having been established in the USA in 1890. The company employs 100 people and currently provides education, skills and training to 45,000 people across the UK and internationally. ICS is in the process of becoming an integral part of an even bigger pan-European distance learning provider led by the German educational publishing giant Cornelsen.