An online system developed in Ireland to help children develop emotional resilience is gaining traction in overseas markets, including Britain, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates.
Education Desty was launched in 2015 by Mayo woman Stephanie O’Malley on foot of her experience studying educational psychology at University College Dublin.
“At that time, I was seeing all this emphasis on academic achievement and psychometrics, and I felt that the emotional aspect of children’s learning was being overlooked,” O’Malley, who runs the company in Westport with her husband Noel, said.
“Not having the opportunity to develop their emotional resilience can be a big barrier to children reaching their full potential. I felt we needed to be doing more to help the key people in their lives – parents, teachers and social workers – to support them. That’s how the idea for Desty was born.”
The Desty programme uses animation to create a safe environment in which children are encouraged to explore and learn how to manage their emotions.
The children get a soft toy called Desty and access to an interactive online programme set in Desty Island. They work with mentors trained by the company to help them use the programme to get to grips with difficult emotions, such as sadness, anger and fear.
“The idea is to help children to develop self-awareness and build emotional intelligence, so they can understand the impact their feelings have on them,” O’Malley said.
“Emotional resilience is the core of what we’re trying to get to. Once children understand their feelings, we work on how they can manage them.”
O’Malley piloted the Desty programme with 20 schools in Hampshire, England in 2015 and has since gone on to work with 11 local authorities in Britain in Knowsley, Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, Surrey and other areas.
“We work primarily in the UK with vulnerable and at-risk children – a lot of foster children and the people supporting them, such as foster carers and social workers,” she said.
“There’s a lot in our programme about attachment, secure relationships and the impact of trauma and stress on children.”
To date, O’Malley estimates that she has trained about 500 mentors, including 135 since the launch of a new online training programme in early 2019.
“Being able to train mentors online is a game-changer for us. It means we can scale up much more quickly,” she said.
Education Desty recently signed up its first Danish client, Skt Josef’s International School in Roskilde.
The Mayo company is also working with three international schools in the United Arab Emirates. Sabis in Dubai is piloting Desty with a view to rolling the programme out to its network of international schools in 20 countries.
In the Irish market, O’Malley is offering the programme to schools at a special rate of €300 for five children.
“We have a very ambitious target for the Irish market. We’re hoping to reach 10,000 children and to train 2,000 mentors here in 2021,” she said.
“The feedback we’re getting from our existing mentors is that Covid-19 restrictions have resulted in anxiety for some children. There is also concern about how children will settle back into schools when they reopen, particularly children who find it more difficult to cope. We’ve launched an attractive package for Irish schools, because we want to make the programme as affordable as possible.
“We want to get it into the hands of as many schools here as possible, so it can be used to help the children who need it when schools reopen.”