Severely ill teen among first in Northamptonshire to send a robot to school in his place

Alexanda Harvey has a range of complex medical conditions that force him to miss a lot of school but one piece of groundbreaking technology has changed this

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 1:07 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 1:11 pm

A 13-year-old school boy is amongst the first in Northamptonshire to use a robot to access his education.

Alexanda Harvey, 13, from Thorplands in Northampton, has a range of complex medical conditions including Interstitial Lung Disease, Phenylketonuria (PKU), Surfactant Protein Deficiency C, and Epilepsy. His illnesses mean that he needs to spend a lot of time in hospital, making his attendance at school as low as 20 per cent.

One piece of groundbreaking technology made by Norwegian company, No Isolation, has transformed Alexanda's access to education. The AV1 robot acts as Alexanda's eyes, ears and voice in the classroom when he cannot be there in person. It can be controlled on an app on Alexanda's tablet from his hospital bed or from his home.

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Alexanda Harvey, 13, with his AV1 robot.
Alexanda Harvey, 13, with his AV1 robot.

Alexanda's mum, Libby Harvey, said: "Alexanda wasn't really able to access education in hospital. He would be able to access a small amount through the hospital teachers but then the budget was cut and we lost that so he stopped being able to access education at all.

"This technology is amazing and has already had an significant impact on my son's learning. It basically enables him to be in two places at once - in his hospital bed and in the classroom at once.

"I do hope other young people with long-term illnesses get access to their own AV1 robot and helping pupils continue to learn is vital."

The AV1 can look around the classroom, raise its hand and signal when Alexanda wants to participate in lessons. He can even speak to his classmates through the microphone on his device.

Alexanda using his tablet to operate the robot at school from his home.

Alexanda's school, Greenfields Specialist School for Communication at Prentice Court in Goldings, have facilitated him using the robot as a way to bridge the gap in his learning when he cannot be at school in person.

Research carried out by No Isolation reveals that there are at least 72,000 children and young adults in the UK who, due to a long-term illness, are frequently absent from school.

Marketing Manager at No Isolation, Florence Salisbury, said: "Loneliness can have major consequences on our overall health and life outcomes so be it cancer, organ failure, ME/CFS, or anxiety, we believe that no one should have to experience social isolation.

"Nothing can replace actually being at school but AV1 comes closer to anything else. We developed the concept of AV1 after months of consulting teachers, parents, children and doctors, and learnt the child needed to be physically represented in the classroom. The result is the robot, which acts as the child's eyes, ears and voice.

"We work with local authorities and schools across the country to get an AV1 to every child who could benefit from one. Currently there are over 500 in use in the UK, but our efforts will continue until we help many more."

Libby Harvey will be running the 2021 London Marathon in September this year in aid of the Helen and Douglas House hospice in Oxford. The hospice helps terminally ill babies and children live their short lives to the full.

Libby, talking about the support the hospice has given to her and her son, said: "Helen and Douglas House have helped Alexanda and me so much. We go there for a residential stay a few times a year for much-needed respite.

"There is always something fun for Alexanda to do and it means I can just be Mummy rather than a 24/7 carer, which I am normally."

When at the hospice, Alexander loves to use the spa on the more difficult days when he needs to rest and he loves to play with all the musical instruments. On one of his last stays, he put together several Star Wars lightsabres and said he was training to be a Jedi.

Libby has raised £895 of her £1,500 target on her JustGiving Page so far.

For more information about the AV1 robot, visit No Isolation's website at https://www.noisolation.com/av1/ or call 020 3966 5397.