A ROBOT that allows children who are absent from school long-term the chance to participate in school life is being trialled in East Lothian.

East Lothian Council is trialling a new avatar robot called AV1, developed by Norwegian company No Isolation, which aims to help children with long term illnesses stay connected with their peers.

With AV1, the child can participate in class and maintain contact with their school friends, from the comfort of their own home or hospital bed It uses a one-way video stream and two-way audio stream that allows the child to see, hear and communicate with their teacher and classmates.

It is controlled by the child on an app that is on their tablet or mobile phone, and multi-level security measures are in place – it is password protected and locked to a single device, uses fully encrypted streams and is only accessible in real time.

Following initial success and positive feedback from users, the authority has ordered more AV1 units to support children and young people with a range of needs.

Fiona Robertson, East Lothian Council’s head of education, said: “We are really pleased to be trialling this new technology in our schools.

“At a recent initial trial, one of our class teachers at Campie Primary School was able to read a picture book to, and interact successfully with, a learner at home.

“The good quality camera image allowed the learner to see the book clearly and discuss the illustrations, and when the robot, Heart, was rotated by the learner to have a good look around the classroom, she commented that her tray was still in its usual place and the classroom displays had been updated.

“The headteacher was also able to join in and have a chat with the learner about how she was doing.

“Since then, the AV1 has been in frequent use, and the learner has participated in project work and has even been able to view their artwork on the classroom walls.

“The teacher has commented on how natural the interaction feels, and admits that any initial doubts she may have had about robots in the classroom have quickly dissipated. We are really pleased with the device, and feedback from school and the learner’s parents has been very positive. It’s been wonderful to see its impact on the learner, her teacher and the school staff.”

Alison Elgin, depute headteacher at Campie Primary School, added: “This technology has made such a difference to the child and her family.

“The school has been in touch with the family on a regular basis, but this has been a particularly powerful addition for the learner to keep communicating with her classmates and her teacher.”

Ms Robertson added: “Because of this success, we are exploring how we can use this technology further to support more children and young people who require additional support in their learning.”