Category Archives: Smart Islands

Scotland's wild west coast

Lessons During Covid-19

Education in the age of Covid-19 – A case study in coping with the disruption

Before Covid-19 struck, and despite the need to prepare young people to live and work in an increasingly digital world, some, perhaps too many, education stakeholders were ambivalent and even dubious about the value of remote and digital learning. Some saw it as the thin end of a wedge in which computers replace teachers and educators; young people spending evermore time in front of screens for study as well as play.

However, the pandemic has demonstrated that the ability to educate remotely adds resilience and minimises the social costs of interrupted education.  It has provided examples of good practice and positive impacts in general education, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TEVT) and Higher Education, from many countries including Uruguay, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.  Nevertheless, pupils, even in well developed countries, tell us that the experience has been mixed.

Effective Partnerships

The value of blended learning is demonstrated amply by e-Sgoil, the remote teaching ecosystem which grew from a desire to provide equality of access and participation for pupils in rural communities scattered across Scotland’s wild Western Isles. E-Sgoil uses the national digital education platform GLOW, and commercial education collaboration software Vscene.  Partnerships with public and third sector developers of curricular resources as Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT) the Confucius Institute (CISS) both based at the University of Strathclyde,  Keep Scotland Beautiful, and SCHOLAR, have enabled it to launch a wide range of language, environmental, and cultural content to pupils in Scotland and beyond.  Uptake by pupils – often without prompting from their own teachers – has been remarkable.

E-Sgoil’s most recent initiative is fully subscribed, so too is a parallel program of professional development for teachers. While parents were being bombarded with websites that could help, these partners in e-Sgoil recognised the need for learner structure, within a timetabled real time teaching  experience. From a standing start and at very little additional costs, a new school was created for Scotland; oversubscribed in some classes within a week. By the 6th of May, 15,364 young learners aged 5-18 from all 32 Local Authorities had been involved in this new school, almost 500 were on a waiting list, and just over 300 teachers were enrolled for professional development activities.

Lessons to be learned

What lessons can we draw from such examples of good practice?

The first lesson is that education systems which already had an embedded digital culture made the transition from blended learning to remote learning far more smoothly and effectively than those who found themselves making the transition from traditional learning as an emergency measure.  Examples of good practice include Plan Ceibal in Uruguay and e-Sgoil.

A second lesson is that there is no need to spend time and effort developing bespoke content and platforms – high quality educational resources are widely available on digital and broadcast channels such as BBC Bitesize. Excellent virtual learning tools such as Moodle, Padlet and Google Classroom are easy to adapt to local context and curriculum.  Connectivity solutions can always be found and need not be digital, as the examples of Pakistan and Uzbekistan show. The appeal with e-Sgoil has been the real time pedagogic interface between the educators and the learners focused on curriculum offers that are appealing and recognisable in their educational systems.

The third lesson is the importance of partnership.  The success achieved by e-Sgoil is attributable to its leverage of partnerships to provide educational resources; Scottish Government’s commitment through its Deputy First Minister has been crucial. This allows e-Sgoil’s small staff team focus their energy on developing the teaching methods and equipping teachers and pupils with the skills needed to operate in a remote learning environment.  As in every educational setting, the degree of success is a function of the skills of the teacher.  Whilst some sources highlight concerns, e-Sgoil has identified some key points of guidance for effective remote teaching.

The fourth lesson concerns coordination and management.  Teachers operating in the ‘new normal’ have commented on how the balance of their workload has changed and the highlighted the importance of effective communications with parents and pupils, especially in areas of high deprivation and when supporting the most vulnerable pupils. There are opportunities for efficiency though, such as by ensuring that pupils all use the same online platform. For example use of GLOW (the national digital learning platform) was found to be patchy across Scotland, and this had to be addressed for pupils outside the Western Isles accessing e-Sgoil.  Coordinated timetabling is essential for remote teaching across multiple schools as is technical back up in the first few course lessons when human error can impact on the learning experience.

Looking Ahead

In conclusion, traditional education systems have evolved over decades if not centuries, and they are generally poor at coping with emergencies. The Covid-19 crisis has precipitated innovation and development at an unprecedented pace, and has demonstrated the potential for remote learning within a blended learning environment as a tool to enhance access. It is very likely that in many global educational systems the ‘ new normal ‘ will be around for many months and hopefully one of the positive legacies of Covid-19 will be an acceptance that blended learning, where there is direct interface between educators and learners no matter distances, can be firmly established.

Every education system would do well to ask how it can improve its remote learning capability to improve resilience in emergency situations, and help minimise the social costs of interrupted learning.  The best examples focus on developing teachers’ skills, and leverage partnerships with a range of organisations in the public, private and third sectors to meet the learning needs of pupils.

About the Authors

Martin Finnigan is Director of Caledonian Economics. He works with governments and international development agencies, developing better partnerships in the education sector.   

Bruce Robertson is a former Director of Education and a Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.  


Smart Cities graphic

What can we learn from the best Smart Cities?



In 1950, around 70% of the world lived in rural areas and 30% in cities.  By 2050 these percentages will have reversed (UN World Urbanisation Prospects, 2014). Much of this growth and shift will be in developing economies.  It is said that if everyone on earth lived a typical Western lifestyle, our ecological footprint would be so large that we would need four planets to live on!

As our world’s population grows and becomes more urban, we must become much more efficient and ‘smart’ about how our cities function.

Last week I took part in the 8th edition of the annual Smart City Event in the Hague, Netherlands. The use of smart technology and big data is already evident in the Netherland’s energy, waste and transport systems, health & social care provision and in its prison service.

Delegates and speakers from governments, business, academia and knowledge institutions shared and discussed their perspectives on what makes ‘Smart Cities’ and whether the term is meaningful.

One speaker, Oualid Ali, President of the Futures Cities Council asked a searching question: what is the alternative to being a ‘Smart City’? An ’Intellectually Challenged City’? Ali noted that digital technology and data are nothing without innovation and ideas from people.  His preferred term is “Future Cities” with the focus being on innovation, digital or otherwise.

When the jargon is stripped away we are left with the principles of sustainable development, within which ‘smart’ or digital solutions move cities toward our overarching goal of sustainability.  There are huge opportunities for cities to gather and use data to reveal patterns of use and behaviour in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our buildings, transport and flows (waste, water, energy). Being ‘Smart’ is about making these flows more efficient and sustainable for the benefit of the City’s people.

City development is not a simple topic which can be easily labelled.  As we saw during the conference, the possibilities for innovation are endless.  However, here are the top five questions cities should ask as they strive to become ‘Smarter”:

  1. Do you really understand the needs of business and citizen? There is no single blueprint to make Smart Cities. Does your approach consider challenges facing your particular city (perhaps energy, waste management, mobility, or safety) and understand what your citizens consider to be a ‘good city’ to live? A top down ‘government knows best’ approach rarely works.
  1. Are interests aligned? Are you bringing your public sector, businesses, academia, consultants and civil society together with a goal of knowledge sharing and learning best practices from others? Ingenuity and a culture of openness is needed if you are to move toward a city that is fit for the future.  Organisations such as C40 Cities support this approach at an international level.
  1. Big data means big security – are you ready? The implications of gathering and storing vast quantities of data and the importance of cyber security cannot be an after-thought. Do you understand the levels of risk involved, are they at the fore, how good is your understanding of legal and regulatory frameworks?
  1. How will you get everyone over the digital divide? How will you cater for citizens who cannot access digital data and technology, perhaps because of health, status or poverty? Such citizens risk becoming marginalised, perpetuating urban inequalities.
  1. How will you pay for it? The public sector will be a key enabler, but what blend of public and private financing will be required? How will you structure the blend to fit your context and the initiatives you wish to pursue, minimising risk and maximising benefits?  An element of ‘’spend to save” will usually be needed to realise long term efficiencies and cost savings, and you should reflect appropriate timeframes in your upfront financial analysis.

Interest in ‘Smart Cities’ has grown rapidly and is now central to urban policy, planning and development.  But do ‘Smart’ or ‘Future’ cities’ offer a panacea to development and the challenges our cities face today?

Of course not, but these concepts reflect a direction of travel towards a world where we tackle the challenges of population growth, climate change and resource shortages.  More efficient, sustainable cities will better serve the people who live in them today and in the future.

Written by Lynne-Marie Thom who leads the Smart Cities, infrastructure and local economic development activities at Caledonian Economics.  She has a background in financing and implementing national infrastructure projects.  She worked with Scottish Government to develop the 2015 National Infrastructure Investment Plan including the Digital thematic component, and has helped deliver infrastructure at national, municipal and local levels, using a variety of innovative funding mechanisms to target development of growth-enabling infrastructure.

A transformational education model: e-sgoil review published

The ‘One Year Review’ of e-sgoil, written by our Education Specialist Bruce Robertson and Director Martin Finnigan, has been published by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, (Western Isles Council).  Our review documents the remarkable success of this initiative which takes Smart Cities concepts and applies them in a rural Smart Islands context.

Careful data gathering and analysis, reliable communications infrastructure and technology-literate teaching staff have opened up new curriculum and pedagogical opportunities throughout the islands.

The potential of this approach to extend from schools into vocational and higher education has been demonstrated, and the impact on Cosnadh (employment), Cánan (language), Cultar (culture) and Coimhearsnachd (community) is clear.

The report assesses progress against the funding objectives, describes the transformational business model, and identifies the current and potential economic impacts.

The e-sgoil model is inexpensive, efficient and scalable.  It is applicable in remote, rural and dispersed communities regardless of location. The report is can be downloaded here.

NHS Orkney New Hospital – Financial Close


Caledonian Economics would like to congratulate NHS Orkney, Robertson Capital Projects and the project team on reaching financial close and signing the contracts for the New Orkney Hospital and Healthcare Facility. 

With colleagues from QMPF we have been working with NHS Orkney for several years to support the business case and subsequent procurement under a variant of the Scottish PPP/NPD model.        

The new Rural General Hospital will have 49 inpatient beds covering acute, cancer & palliative care, maternity and rehabilitation  and will host a variety of services including two GP Practices, Dental and support services.  When it opens in 2019 it will provide a state of the art modern building which will enhance the services staff can offer, utilising technology and the improved facilities.

More details here: 

This continues Caledonian Economics’ long association with Orkney, having previously supported Orkney Islands Council on the procurement of the new Kirkwall Grammar School and Theatre, Pickaquoy Leisure Pool and Stromness Primary School, using a unique variant of the PPP structure.

Stirling City Deal goes forward

The UK Autumn Statement on 23 November 2016 saw Stirling’s City Deal announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Caledonian Economics supported the Council, alongside Turner and Townsend, in developing their City Deal programme.  The components of the City Deal plan include:

  • a Digital District founded on Smart Cities principles ;
  • further developments on the River Forth as a leisure and tourism resource;
  • a new Civic and Harbour quarter; and,
  • plans for a City Park in the shadow of Stirling Castle.

The Caledonian Economics team worked closely with colleagues at Turner and Townsend and the Council to develop the economic impact assessment for each of the projects.

Anderson High School PPP – Shetland Islands Council

We are delighted to have acted as financial advisers to the Shetland Islands Council to  support their procurement of a replacement for Anderson High School in Lerwick. The project reached financial close on the 29th of July 2015.

The project comprises the 1,180 pupil secondary school (£42 million DBFM contract) and new halls of residence (£13 million Design and Build contract). It will be delivered by hub North Scotland ltd.

The new school will be the UK’s most remote and most northerly six year secondary school.