Staying in School Part of the Remedy for Seriously Sick Kids

Australia-first digital hub launches to help school isolation.
Nov 21, 2023
Seriously ill kids keeping in touch with school through telepresence technology.

Keeping children connected to their schools, teachers, and classmates is a must during a health crisis, the question is how.

Parents, teachers and healthcare workers need information and towards this a resource for families and their helpers facing the prospect of a child having to stay out of school for an extended period, the Australia-first National Insights for Education Directories (NIEDs), has been launched by not-for-profit MissingSchool.

NIEDs is a one-stop digital hub and provides trustworthy just-in-time linkages, information, and resources related to health impacts on students’ school outcomes, keeping learning and wellbeing alive from wherever the sick child might be.

MissingSchool CEO and co-founder, Megan Gilmour, says NIEDs’ activation of a powerful alliance of organisations at the intersection of health and education, will put reliable and actionable information in the hands of a wide support team for students facing complex health challenges and, inevitably, chronic absence.

HeartKids, which focuses on helping kids with cardiac disease, is the first organisation to sign up to the NIEDs directory.

“The goal is to prioritise the learning and wellbeing journeys of these disadvantaged students alongside their peers by supporting families and teachers at the point of pressing need,” Gilmour said.

She believes school is a right for every child, with the United Nations placing good health and education third and fourth on its priority list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the world’s biggest problems by 2030.

NIEDs forms part of MissingSchool’s groundbreaking telepresence initiative, Seen&Heard, launched as a one-year pilot in February 2023, with the help of a Commonwealth grant and seed funding from TPG Telecom Foundation.

“Knowledge is indeed power… and so is presence,” Gilmour said.

“Telepresence technology is part of the picture. Just as schools provide wheelchair ramps, they can also adopt synchronous telepresence technology to offer students absent in a wellbeing crisis continuity of classroom access, consistent curriculum, equality of opportunity, and learning alongside peers.

“Telepresence enables teachers to teach lessons once. Telepresence cures absence.”

Building on the success of its Australian first school telepresence service, the not-for-profit is rolling out a suite of digital support services, offering real-time assistance to students and their families; training teachers; fostering peer support, and producing world-leading research.

HeartKids CEO, Lesley Jordan, joined Gilmour in encouraging other organisations to sign up to NIEDs.

“Currently, many children, teens, and young adults within the HeartKids community have no choice but to swap their classroom for hospital school, home study or no schooling at all,” Jordan said. She added that at least 1 in 100 school-aged children live with Childhood-onset Heart Disease, which takes many complex forms and impacts every individual differently.

“The one thing that all HeartKids share is that the condition is lifelong, meaning school adjustments and teacher education is paramount, as is the commitment and flexibility to deliver a ‘normal’ school life for every student.

“School absence differs from child to child, ranging from weeks to months, dependent on their treatment plans, surgical procedures or follow up.

“This is why HeartKids is excited to join MissingSchool in launching NIEDs and driving the message home that continuous connection to school, teachers and classmates is vital to ensuring children don’t fall behind and reach their full potential in life.”

Megan Gilmour, co-founded MissingSchool in 2012 after watching her son, Darcy, struggle with a two-year period of school isolation due to a life-threatening illness, requiring a bone marrow transplant at the age of 10.

Gilmour’s work has been recognised nationally and internationally. In 2018, she was a finalist for the ACT Australian of the Year Awards. She has also been recognised as one of AFR’s 100 Women of Influence, and was awarded the Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year for Purpose and Social Enterprise in 2019. She is also a Churchill Policy Fellow, a Deakin University Honorary Fellow and 2020 Alumna of Year.