Creativity and innovation key to tackling global school attendance crisis

By Shelley Thomas

School is a right for every child. The United Nations has placed good health and education third and fourth on its priority list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to address the world’s biggest challenges by 2030.

Yet, up to 1.2 million children in schools across Australia 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 non-profit has commenced the rollout of a suite of digital services after completing 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 the adoption of “teach once” telepresence technology (including robots) in schools.

It offers real-time assistance to students and their families, trains teachers, fosters peer support, and produces world-leading research.

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

You can view primary and secondary school versions of the peer animations, complemented by telepresence discovery kits accessible upon request via info@missingschool.org.au.

Released in 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:

Since 2018, MissingSchool has helped an estimated 6,480 classmates reconnect by deploying over 216 telepresence robots across Australia. It has also trained 648 teachers in their use and observed a further 2,160 teachers.

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.

Before the onset of ME/CFS, Ethan dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. While this is no longer possible, as he cannot sit up for long periods due to the condition, ongoing connection to learning enabled him to graduate high school. In 2022, he commenced a Music Tech degree at Queensland Conservatorium at Griffith University.

Read more about Ethan’s story and how he used his creativity to compose the soundtrack behind MissingSchool’s peer animations.

Did you know?

World leaders will gather in New York on 22-23 September 2024 to accelerate SDG progress.

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. Find out more here.

About MissingSchool CEO and Co-Founder Megan Gilmour

Social innovator and technology trailblazer 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, their families, teachers and peers through awareness, resources, capacity building, activating human-centred telepresence technology, and world-leading research.

Gilmour’s work has been recognised nationally and internationally.

In 2018, she was a finalist for the ACT Australian of the Year Awards. She was also 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 a 2020 Alumna of the Year. MissingSchool believes that all children should be seen and heard. For more information, visit www.missingschool.org.au.

Can you help? A donation of $75, or the cost of three adult movie tickets, will help one child with a complex health condition access school for one week from a hospital or home. Thanks to public donations, much of MissingSchool’s work is possible. More donations are needed to scale the use of telepresence technology (including but not limited to telepresence robots) in all schools by 2025.

Please donate here.

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