FRI: School Inclusion For Seriously Ill Children. A Website To Share Experiences Of Telepresence Robots In Schools. (Samantha Bennett)

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Samantha Bennett
31 December 2018

Each year, approximately 225,000 children in England are absent from school for extended periods of time due to illness (DfE, 2018). In the UK, local authorities are required to provide a suitable, alternative education for these children (DfE, 2013), usually in the form of tuition at home or at a hospital school. Whilst these alternatives can enable educational inclusion, ensuring that children do not miss out academically, they often do not provide essential social interactions with their peers or inclusion within the context of their own school community. Without maintaining this connection to their friends, teachers and school routines, these children can quickly develop a sense of isolation from the world that they know. This social disconnection can create difficulties when returning to school (CLIC Sargent 2012) and have lasting impacts upon their future relationships and emotional well-being (Donnan et al., 2015).

In order to help these children to stay connected to their schools during their treatment, telepresence robots have been used in a number of countries, including the USA, Australia and France, and more recently in the UK. Originally designed for use by telecommuters in office environments, they are increasingly being adopted by educational settings for children and students who are unable to attend in person.

UK Government investment (DfE, 2018) and recent media interest has highlighted the potential benefits of this innovative use of telepresence robots, with the possibility to extend their use to students suffering from wide range of physical and mental health conditions. A combination of political, economic, social and technological factors are likely to ensure that telepresence robots will become increasingly popular in schools and other educational settings in the future (Goldsmith, 2016) . However, the ad-hoc and geographically disparate adoption of this technology, combined with the lack of research into the use of telepresence robots in real-world mainstream classrooms (Newhart et. al., 2016), means that we still have much to learn about the effectiveness of this technology in educational settings.

Through personal experience of supporting a child using a telepresence robot whilst undergoing cancer treatment, the author has gained valuable insights into the transformative potential of this technology for the emotional well-being of children who are unable to attend school due to illness.The author has also witnessed many of the challenges and constraints in implementing this technology successfully in schools, from the student, teacher and institutional perspectives. This leads to a question being raised on the extent to which telepresence robots can enable ‘real’ inclusion.

Due to the limited use of telepresence robots in schools in the UK, I have been motivated to utilise and develop online networks with the purpose of sharing stories and experiences from across the world and to encourage a more critical approach to their use and implementation.

My presentation will tell the story of my learning journey, specifically focussing upon the development of a website as a tool to build and consolidate a global 'Robots In Schools' network.

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Munir Moosa Sadruddin
8:56am 20 January 2019

Hi Samantha

Great work! I am also working for children battling with cancer!  It is so good to learn that robots are used in many parts of world for social inclusion of children battling illness. I am curious to learn if you have taken assent from the child and consent from his/her parents?

In Pakistan, use of robot is not possible so we have initiated a school within cancer hospital for children to continue their education. Also the term seriously ill has many meanings. There are a few serious illness which even make children unconscious.  I want to know if your project focusing on any specific illness?


Munir Moosa Sadruddin
9:12am 20 January 2019

Hi Samantha

Just sharing one link which I found useful

Samantha Bennett
8:59pm 21 January 2019 (Edited 10:12pm 21 January 2019)

Thanks for you questions Munir. One thing I have learnt from this experience is that cancer affects children indiscriminately wherever they are in the world, but there are huge variations in their chances of survival depending upon where they live. It is shocking and so unfair. 

Telepresence robots have only recently been introduced in the UK - and it is by no means a policy-driven implementation - more a result of a few pioneers working in hospital schools. 

You are right, the term 'serious illness' has many meanings and there is no definitive list as to the specific illnesses this would include. Essentially, a telepresence robot could be used for children who are frequently absent from school, or absent for long periods of time, due to any illness, including physical or mental health conditions. One advantage of this technology is that it is portable - so students can use their robot whilst they are having treatment in hospital (if they are feeling well enough) or when they are recovering at home in between chemotheraphy treatments.

Sometimes during treatment children may feel well enough to go into school, but they are not allowed to do so due the risk of contracting an infection. The ability to use this technology flexibly, as and when appropriate for the individual child, is one of its main benefits. 

It's also important to recognise that this technology may not be suitable for all children and should be used on a case-by-case basis. Some children may feel that it draws too much attention to them - especially at time when they are undergoing physical changes such as hair loss.

I have received child and parental permission for any images and stories which I share publically.  

Munir Moosa Sadruddin
8:12am 23 January 2019

Thank you so much Samantha for your reply. It is good to learn that it is used by hospitals but I can see its long term benefits and your research can also influence policy makers in the future to learn about its significance through the lens of learners. 

I have used drawing therapy for the children battling illness in Pakistan as robot is quite expensive and not yet introduced in our context. You can find my research paper on;year=2013;volume=2;issue=3;spage=113;epage=118;aulast=Sadruddin

Are these robots safe? Free from radiations? 




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