An avatar army has assembled in Southend-on-Sea to assist children in attending classes when they are unable to physically be in the classroom.
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has bought 15 AV1s, which are mini-robots to loan out to schools in the borough - 10 are available through Southend Adult Community College’s Interim (medical) Tuition Service, and five can be loaned directly by schools through the Council.
The robots will allow students who may not be able to go to school because of medical or mental health reasons, to attend their classes remotely so they learn in real time, interact with their peers and participate in lessons.
Cllr Anne Jones, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “The avatars are an innovative solution to allow students to attend class when they can’t attend class. For example, because they are medically unable, such as recovering from a broken leg, or because of a mental health issue such as anxiety, which might prevent them from being in a classroom or there is a behavioural issue and the AV1 is supporting a reintegration plan to prevent exclusion.
“The robot takes the place of the student in the classroom and is used as a way of allowing the student to interact with the class in real-time. It can be used as a short term measure or for a longer term, if needed.
“I really think this could not have happened at a better time as we deal with the mental health fall-out from the pandemic. While it is always best for students to be in their class with their peers, it is good to know there is an alternative available if it is needed.”
All schools in the borough were invited to a webinar on 22 June to hear more about the Avatars and several schools expressed an interest in hiring them.
Temple Sutton Primary School is the first in Southend to take advantage of the scheme. They were told about the avatars during a virtual meeting and there was one child in particular who it was thought might benefit, because the avatar would increase their access to education.
Faye Holford, Assistant Headteacher and SENCO at Temple Sutton Primary School, said: “We initially spoke with the family who were very interested and thought it could be a suitable solution for their child. We haven’t actually started using it yet as we have spent time making sure everyone understands how it works. We want to take every step possible to ensure the implementation is successful. It’s still very early days, but we are all excited to see the impact it has in our school.
“It can be really isolating when you have a medical or mental health condition which prevents you from being in the classroom with your friends and the social interaction is often what children miss the most. The avatar will benefit pupils because it means they can stay in contact with their friends, and this in turn will improve their overall well-being.
“We feel privileged to be the first school in the Borough to use an avatar and I hope more schools will take them up. We know that anxiety in our school communities has increased as a result of the pandemic, so it is reassuring to know that there are alternative options that can be explored to remove barriers and support pupils to access education.”