Aerial virtual learning at Dollar Academy
Aerial virtual learning at Dollar Academy

Open-access online learning encouraging youngsters

This sees the launch of FIDA (Futures Institute at Dollar Academy) – an open-access online learning platform that empowers young people to learn in new ways.

They do this through innovative projects rooted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). It has been created to address three fundamental challenges – sustainability, equitable access to education, and the need for curricular reform.

The platform enables young people to work with experts from industry and universities to better understand, and design solutions to, some of the most complex challenges we face, such as climate change, poverty and social injustice.

There is a wide variety of ways young people can get involved, with a core offering of 17 Global Challenges – one for each of the UN SDGs.

Built in partnership with industry and universities – including renowned textiles manufacturer Johnstons of Elgin, award-winning global architectural studio Grimshaw, and the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge – these open-access Global Challenges encourage students to apply critical thinking and creative problem solving to tackle real-world issues.

Each one is centred around a core principle of helping young people develop the skills required to help build a more sustainable future.

The first five challenges are now freely available via the website and take from three-eight hours to complete.

Aerial virtual learning at Dollar Academy

They range from ‘Zero Hunger’, which sees Masterchef finalist Jilly McCord help children create a new recipe based on local, sustainably-produced foods; to ‘Future Plastic’, where pupils will make their own bioplastic at home and will design a novel packaging solution that could help reduce plastic waste.

In addition to receiving a certificate upon completion, students who submit promising work will have the opportunity to gain internships, work experience and participation in mentoring programmes – be that spending a day working with Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin in one of his restaurants or undertaking an online mentoring programme with the head of sustainability at Highland Spring.

In an effort to further reduce the attainment gap in Scottish education, FIDA also offers free SQA courses, starting with Higher Politics and National 5 Economics, which will allow pupils who cannot access these courses via their own schools, to study for the qualification online, supported by regular interaction with a specialist teacher via video call.

Later in the year, FIDA will offer a programme of online Sustainability Summits, beginning with a partnership with Sustainable Fashion Week in September and a UK Education and Sustainability Leadership Summit in October. There will also be a Teacher Toolbox, which will provide free resources for teachers.

FIDA has been created by leading Scottish independent school Dollar Academy, following the success of their online open-access pilot Dollar Discovers in 2020. The launch of this pilot coincided with a report funded by the Scottish Government and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and published by the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, that called on independent schools to take: ‘more action to share teaching, infrastructure and networks with local state schools and community groups – including, for example, digital learning links to widen subject choice where it is currently restricted, and access to a wider range of employers and individuals who could make valuable connections with state schools.’

FIDA builds on the earlier pilot to offer a wider range of courses, projects and opportunities free of charge to children across Scotland.

Ian Munro, rector of Dollar Academy, said: ‘FIDA has been developed, in line with our charitable purpose and core belief in the transformative power of education, as a way to further enhance our bursary provision by providing the greatest educational impact to the largest number of young people possible. We want to redefine what it means to be a 21st -century educational charity.

Virtual learning with Dollar Academy

‘The pandemic and its impact on schooling and exams is surely just one reason why it is right we question the educational status quo as well as the inconvenient truth that the current education system in the UK has largely been inherited from the 19th century.’

David Thomson, head of Modern Studies at Dundee’s Morgan Academy, who was part of the Dollar Discovers pilot, said: ‘To be given access to this resource has been an absolute godsend and the support Dollar Discovers has given me has been immeasurable. More importantly, the resource being made available to my students has boosted their confidence and ability immensely.’

Pupils who have studied Higher Politics this year via the Dollar Discovers pilot, stated: ‘The main reason I decided to take Higher Politics with Dollar Discovers was because it was not a course that my, or the surrounding schools, offered.’

Another added: ‘The resources and support were incredibly useful; it doesn’t even feel like you’re doing the course remotely due to the wide range of support that is on offer. The exam help has been super useful and has allowed me to boost my essay knowledge and improve my skills – even in other classes.’

FIDA can be found at