In 2010, Megan Gilmour watched her then 10-year-old son, Darcy, rapidly slide into critical illness. Three rare blood disorders saw him fast-tracked into a bone marrow transplant – a treatment that kills if it doesn’t cure. The hospital became Darcy’s home and Darcy’s school. Darcy missed almost two years of school; the loneliness and isolation hurt him more than anything.
Long periods of school absence can be a big problem for students who miss school due to a medical condition, illness, or accident. In Australia alone, there are around 60,000 kids with serious illness or injury at home or in a hospital who cannot attend school. Inspired by their children’s need for education and contact with their classmates while going through medical treatment, Megan Gilmour, Cathy Nell, and Gina Meyers founded MissingSchool in 2012.
Megan and her partners knew that maintaining a connection with school through technology would offer kids like their own a sense of normality and ease the transition back into everyday life. In 2015, through a report funded by the St.George Foundation, MissingSchool took this problem to the national stage. After receiving the Prime Minister’s attention, and the attention of a national media, MissingSchool began a national pilot to start connecting children across the country with their schools via telepresence robots.
Today, MissingSchool utilizes the Ohmni Telepresence Robots to connect sick students with their classrooms. Unlike Skype on a laptop, it is operated in real-time by the student (not the teacher or an aid) so students feel independent. And unlike, online learning, the student is learning socially, too — engaging with friends, teachers and everything that creates the school environment.
Parents tell MissingSchool that the biggest benefit is that their child receives the same instruction as their peers and are not disadvantaged. For the student, it’s fun to drive themselves to the scheduled classrooms, socializing with their friends in the hallway as they go. Students use Ohmni daily for long-term absences caused by disease or chronic illness and also while out temporarily recovering from a sickness or accident.
The MissingSchool pilot has been live for about one year and it has already achieved collaboration with education and health systems around Australia. 64 inquiries for robots have been processed and the organization has had conversations with 59 schools. They aim to place at least 200 robots by the end of 2020. Megan and MissingSchool are changing how sick kids are educated and cared for all over Australia and it certainly doesn’t seem they’ll stop until the job’s done.
“ The telepresence robots stand in the classrooms of sick kids and connect them. By putting robots in their classrooms, we are enabling sick students to see and hear their teachers and classmates, in real-time, and be seen and heard. They even have the ability to move their robot around from home or hospital via their laptop keyboard.” Megan Gilmour, Co-Founder of MissingSchool.
Ready to use the Ohmni Telepresence Robot in your school? Visit ohmnilabs.com/telepresence to learn more about our telepresence robots.