Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Robots to the rescue for kids too sick for school

Cormac Pearson, February 2, 2021 7:00PM The Courier-Mail

Print Article

Ethan Waller schooling from home with The Lakes College students on January 27, 2021. Picture: Richard Walker media_cameraEthan Waller schooling from home with The Lakes College students on January 27, 2021. Picture: Richard Walker


Reading level: orange

When Ethan got sick, he couldn’t go to school, see his mates and could barely leave his bed. He thought people would forget about him.

And then a robot came to his rescue.

Ethan Waller was 15 when he developed glandular fever, which caused a neuro-immune* disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis* and another condition called Dysautonomia*.

His mother, Shelley-Lee Waller, was scared he wouldn’t graduate and was deeply worried for his future.

“At the time he was unwell, he couldn’t really read, we had to scribe* his assignments verbally*, things were pretty dire* at his worst,” Ms Waller said.

“We’ve had a dreadfully hard time, honestly we didn’t think he would graduate.”

But thanks to a robot from the MissingSchool foundation the 18-year-old is now only two subjects away from graduating.

“The robot kept me connected to my friends and kept hopes of my future alive,” Ethan said.

“Without the robot, I probably would’ve failed school and had no prospects of a career.”

QLD_CM_NEWS_ROBOTKID_26JAN20 media_cameraEthan Waller schooling from his home with The Lakes College students Lachlan Aitken and Ashleigh Stevens. Picture: Richard Walker

The telepresence* robot helps Ethan attend school from his bed. He controls where it goes, seeing through the camera while connecting with his classmates.

“We would not have been able to do it without the robo-ethan as we call it, there is just no way he would have been able to teach himself with a textbook from home for five years,” Ms Waller said.

Unfortunately, not every student that needs one gets a robot like Ethan’s. Ms Waller has personally heard stories of kids being left behind in schooling due to long-term illnesses.

CEO and co-founder of MissingSchool Megan Gilmour is trying to fix the problem for some of the 60,000 kids missing school every day in Australia.

“Sick children missing school is an issue that everybody needs to be involved in. We can’t solve it on our own, but we can together.”

The robot has been cleared for use in Queensland since 2019, so far supporting 10 students in the state with 39 schools currently considering robot placements.

The Queensland Children’s Hospital School bought 10 robots to help students across the state and the country.

The University of Southern Queensland is researching the affects of the robot on students, and according to Associate Professor Petrea Redmond, it’s “definitely positive.”

“Across Australia there is anywhere between 2 and 12 per cent of our children are away from school due to a serious illness so it’s a big problem on a large scale,” Ms Redmond said.

“It’s definitely been a positive thing and the parents talk about the social connection more than the academic connection, because that’s what the children talk about mostly that they miss.”


DO NOT USE-immune: describes disorders or diseases that affect both the nervous system and the immune system

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME): a long-term disease that causes symptoms throughout the body and is often triggered by a virus or flu-like illness

Dysautonomia or autonomic dysfunction: is a condition in which the body’s autonomic nervous system doesn’t work properly. The autonomic nervous system controls the working of organs such as the heart, intestines, blood vessels and even the pupils in the eyes

scribe: write something down

verbally: using words

dire: very serious or urgent

telepresence: being somewhere with the help of virtual technology, rather than physically being present


Happy or sad? Students send teachers emojis

Robots get private viewing of art show

Feeling sick? Pepper the robot is here to help

Robot teachers take over class


At what age did Ethan get sick? How old is he now?

Who is Shelley-Lee?

How many robots like this are helping children in Queensland?

Who is Megan Gilmour?

What does a telepresence robot do?


1. Robot Presence
Do you have kids missing school due to illness at your school? Could this telepresence robot help them stay connected to the learning and their friends in the classroom?

If so, work with a partner to write a letter to your school principal asking to fundraise to get one of these robots at your school for kids that are missing school due to illness or other reasons. In your letter state the following:

Why you think you need to purchase a telepresence robot for your school

If there’s a particular student in need or if it could be used for different purposes

How this robot would help students remain connected

If you could use it to share between another school in your area

How much you’d like to fundraise for the robot from the MissingSchool Foundation

How you’d like to raise some money – online fundraising, casual clothes day, fun run, etc.

If you think this is a great cause, follow through by making a time to show your principal your ideas and asking if you can organise a fundraiser.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social

2. Extension
What other purposes could this telepresence robot be used for in schools? Apart from students with illnesses, could it help teachers or students with other disadvantages? Brainstorm a list of different uses for these robots in schools.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking

Up-level it
Scan through the article and see if you can locate three words that you consider to be basic, or low level. These are words we use all the time and that can be replaced by more sophisticated words. Words like “good” and “said” are examples of overused words.

Once you have found them, see if you can up-level them. Think of synonyms you could use instead of these basic words, but make sure they still fit into the context of the article.

Re-read the article with your new words. Did it make it better? Why/why not?

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you were too sick to go to school, what would you miss most?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in health