Creativity and Innovation Key to Tackling Global School Attendance Crisis

Ethan Waller completed year 11 and 12 despite a serious health condition with some help from MissingSchool.

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 (SDGs), addressing the world’s biggest challenges by 2030.

Yet in schools across Australia, up to 1.2 million children face health challenges serious enough to affect their education and attendance.

According to MissingSchool CEO and Co-Founder, Megan Gilmour, more than 100,000 students are already missing significant school time in the face of rising medical and mental illness, with the trend of school refusal underlining urgency.

Building on the success of Australia’s first school telepresence robot service, the nonprofit has commenced rollout of a suite of digital services after completion of a one-year pilot made possible through a Commonwealth grant and seed funding from TPG Telecom Foundation.

Aptly named Seen&Heard, the groundbreaking initiative is driving adoption of “teach once” telepresence technology (including robots) in schools and offering real-time assistance to students and their families, training teachers, fostering peer support, and producing world-leading research.

Ahead of UN World Creativity and Innovation Day, celebrated each April, MissingSchool invited Ethan Waller, a graduate student of its early See-Be robot service, to compose the soundtrack for two new peer animations.

View primary and secondary school versions of the peer animations, complemented by telepresence discovery kits via

Released on  21 April, the animations will be shared in primary and secondary schools across Australia to acknowledge the role of siblings and peers of students impacted by complex health challenges in keeping positive connections, and to minimise stigma. Ongoing rollout of MissingSchool’s Seen&Heard initiative also includes:

  • The Australia-first National Insights for Education Directories, activating a powerful alliance at the intersection of health and education;
  • On-demand teacher training within a digital professional learning community;
  • real-time assistance to students and families via MissingSchool’s digital Helpline, Parent Facebook Group, including weekly online support sessions; and
  • World-leading research.

Since 2018, MissingSchool has helped an estimated 6,480 classmates reconnect through deployment of over 216 telepresence robots across Australia and trained 648 teachers in their use, with a further 2,160 teachers observing.

Budding young Brisbane composer, Ethan Waller, now 21, is one of the students helped by MissingSchool. He’s lived with the debilitating and little understood neuro-immune condition, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), for nine years.

As a result, he completed senior study (Years 11 and 12) over four years (between 2018 and 2021) through telepresence support.

Prior to the onset of ME/CFS, Ethan dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. While this is no longer possible, as he is unable to sit up for long periods due to the condition, ongoing connection to learning enabled him to graduate high school and, in 2022, commence a degree in Music Tech at Queensland Conservatorium (Griffith University).

Did you know? World leaders will gather to accelerate progress towards the SDGs at the UN Summit of the Future in New York on 22-23 September, 2024. Last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a ‘Transforming Education’ policy brief ahead of the summit, including a call to ‘harness digital tools and resources to expand access, improve learning and increase capacities to navigate the future’. MissingSchool CEO and Co-Founder Megan Gilmour was recently invited to add her voice to the UN SDG Action Campaign.

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. Since then, Gilmour has led the not-for-profit, tirelessly advocating for the needs of students with complex medical and mental health conditions.

This article was first published on Education Today. To view the original article click here.

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