Illness keeping 100,000 students away from school

Composer Ethan Waller. | Newsreel
Ethan Waller, who overcame health setbacks to graduate from high school, has composed the music for new support services. | Photo: Supplied by MissingSchool

New digital support services have been released to support more than 100,000 students who are missing out on significant school time due to medical and mental illness.

The MissingSchool organisation says these student are among the 1.2 million children who face health challenges serious enough to impact their schooling.

MissingSchool is a a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the educational and social needs of children who miss school because of serious illness or injury.

Since 2018, the organisation has helped 6480 children reconnect through the deployment of more than 216 “telepresence robots” across Australia. It has trained 648 teachers in their use, with a further 2160 teachers observing.

The program has been extended with the announcement on the weekend by MissingSchool CEO Megan Gilmour that a suite of new digital services would be rolled out after the completion of a one-year pilot.

The services were supported through a Commonwealth grant and seed funding from TPG Telecom Foundation.

“Aptly named Seen&Heard, the ground-breaking 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,” Ms Gilmour said.

“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.”

The new programs are in addition to the ongoing:

  • National Insights for Education Directories
  • On-demand teacher training within a digital professional learning community
  • Real-time assistance to students and families via MissingSchool’s digital Helpline and Parent Facebook Group

The background music to the animations released on the weekend was created by Brisbane composer Ethan Waller.

Ethan, now 21, was one of the students helped by MissingSchool. He has lived with the debilitating and little understood neuro-immune condition, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome for nine years.

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

“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).”

Ms Gilmour said MissingSchool approached Ethan to compose a unique and meaningful soundtrack for the educational animations because of his lived experience of maintaining connection to school during a health crisis.

The release of the new digital support services coincided with UN World Creativity and Innovation Day.

More information is available on the MissingSchool website.