In need of remote learning tools to reduce costs while increasing hours of education, local authorities are turning to a desktop robot.
The harmful lifelong consequences of long-term absence from school are well known. It can be detrimental to education and attainment, and children miss opportunities to develop social skills and make lasting friendships. Long periods away can lead to psychosocial problems such as social exclusion, fear of peer rejection and bullying.
Reasons for absence may vary from life- threatening illness, anxiety, autism and now – because of COVID-19 – shielding.
No Isolation, the ‘warm technology’ company committed to eradicating loneliness, has warned that school absence is increasing, which in turn leads to additional demand for distance learning. The Department for Education has announced that, as of 22 October, access to remote education provisions for pupils unable to attend school is a legal obligation.
Progressive and cost-effective approaches to this problem are available. Based on the needs of isolated children, No Isolation developed AV1, which received its Seal of Excellence from the European Commission in 2016, before securing a £522,142 grant from the Department for Education’s Alternative Provision Innovation Fund in 2018.
“(AV1) is a cost-effective way of providing support for young people that other students and staff also love to be part of”Julie Young, Post-16 Advisor at Somerset County Council
AV1 is a small ‘robot’, or avatar, that sits in the classroom on behalf of the child. For example, ‘Emily’ is at home recovering from cancer treatment. She has the AV1 app downloaded on her iPad, and, when she logs in using her secret code, she is connected to a livestream through the eyes of the desktop avatar – AV1 – in her very own classroom. It lights up to show she is connected, so her classmates wave and say hello. When class begins, Emily looks at the whiteboard and follows the class by adjusting AV1’s gaze. If she wants to ask a question, she activates a flashing light on top of AV1’s head. Two-way sound makes conversation easy between Emily and her teacher or friends but, by using one-way video, she can stay in bed without worrying about being on display. However, she can still show that she is happy, sad or confused, by selecting different facial expressions in the app.
AV1 is available to rent or buy, with more than 450 in use in the UK. The most common reason for local authorities adding AV1 into their education services is that, for as little as £8 a day, it improves wellbeing, motivation to learn and likelihood of reintegration, while also giving students the flexibility to attend up to 25 hours of lessons per week, if their health permits. Those working in special educational needs continue to search for bespoke
learning packages that can best suit each child. Home tutors, for example, provide education for young people at home, but a full timetable is often not possible at an average cost of £40-£100 an hour.
Now more than ever it is vital that remote learning is flexible and accommodating, so children’s futures aren’t jeopardised by missed opportunities. Its intelligent design means AV1 is capable of bridging the gap between home and classroom, making a life-changing impact on their emotional wellbeing and, when the time comes for reintegration, it is as if they never left.