Weʼre raising £15,000 to help chronically ill children to attend school via a telepresence robot.
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In December 2017, my son Adam was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of primary bone cancer which affects around 25 children a year in the UK. Almost overnight, Adam's life as a sociable and active 12 year-old was turned upside down. For the majority of 2018 Adam will undergo a gruelling schedule of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and physiotherapy in order to beat the cancer which has spread from his leg to his lungs, and to be able to learn how to walk again.
Much of the time Adam is treated as an in-patient in hospital. The time he gets to spend at home with his family is often spent attending medical appointments or fighting off the debilitating side-effects of the chemotherapy.
As his mum, my main concern is to ensure that Adam is able to cope with his treatment and to keep things as normal as possible for the whole family. As a 12 year-old, Adam's normal life would usually mean going to school with his friends, joining in with clubs and sports, and generally being a part of a school community.
Many children would be excited about the chance to miss a week or two from school, but for children with a chronic illness, weeks may turn into months, or even years. Long absences from school not only mean that they miss out on the routine and sense of belonging which schools provide, but they have fewer opportunities to socialise and develop friendships. In addition to their physical illness, this can cause feelings of isolation and depression, making it even more difficult for them to return to school once their treatment is completed. Hospital schools do provide personalised home- or hospital-based tutoring to ensure that chronically ill children have opportunities to continue their formal learning. Whilst being highly valuable, such opportunities cannot fill the gap left by being unable to attend their own school in person.
This is where robots can help. A telepresence robot is a portable device through which children are able to attend their lessons whilst they are at home or in hospital. The robot lives at the school but is controlled remotely by the student through an iPad enabling them to see, hear and interact with their teachers and classmates in real time. The ability to move their robot independently means that they can move the robot between lessons and even put it to bed at the end of the school day by sending it back to its docking station for recharging.
Telepresence robots have been used very successfully in the USA for many years and Oxfordshire Hospital School have recently purchased two telepresence robots for use in the UK. As far as we are aware, Adam has been the first student in the UK to trial one of these robots, using it at Wood Green School in Witney, Oxfordshire.
Adam's robot lives in his classroom cupboard and is switched on each morning by his friend and 'robot buddy', Isaac. Whether Adam is at home or in hospital, he is then able to move the robot between lessons with the help of his buddy who opens doors (the robot unfortunately doesn't have arms!) and helps him up and down the stairs. So far, Adam has successfully attended lessons, but also joined in with tutor time and after school activities. In the next few weeks, more of Adam's teachers are looking forward to having him back in class via the robot and he plans to 'meet-up' with his friends for lunch once he finishes his daily radiotherapy sessions. Adam summed up what the robot has meant to him:
"After missing out on school for many months, my favourite thing about having a robot is finally being able to reconnect with my friends, as that is what I miss most from school".
Whilst the robot technology is relatively easy for any tech-confident student to get to grips with, there are a few obstacles which can prevent it from working 100% smoothly from the outset. Adam's family, his teachers and Oxfordshire Hospital School are working together to to find solutions to these challenges, and look forward to sharing these experiences with other teachers and students who want to try out this technology for themselves.
Telepresence robots have the potential to be a game-changer for students like Adam, but also for hundreds of students in the UK affected by other physical or mental health conditions which prevent them from attending school in person.
Inspired by Adam's and other students' robot journeys, I've been motivated to support other schools to introduce 'Robots In Schools', through connecting and sharing experiences and through fundraising to enable more chronically ill children in the UK to reconnect with school via robot.
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Jun 23, 2018
What an amazing initiative. Let's hope robots in schools will soon be available to all the children who would benefit. X
Jun 21, 2018
Great idea Sam!
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Robots In Schools
Robots In Schools supports chronically ill children in the UK to attend school via a telepresence robot. Founded by Samantha Bennett, inspired by her 12-year old son, Adam, the first student in the UK to attend school via robot whilst undergoing cancer treatment.