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Bednet - Synchronous Internet Education for children with a chronic or long-term illness

Wouter Van der Hoeven, Educational Researcher, Wim Van Petegem, Professor Learning Technologies at the Catholic University of Leuven
  • Case Study

Even when a child is ill for a long time, they still have the right to learn and keep up with their classmates. For the past 25 years, the right to an education has been enshrined as a fundamental right under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Belgian non-profit organization Bednet has been making sure that this fundamental right is respected since 2006 in Flanders and Brussels (Belgium) by using EdTech to create a live digital connection between the pupil with an illness and his or her class group to facilitate synchronous internet education (SIE). SIE has since been structurally embedded in the Flemish Community’s education system in 2015.

Video interview with Kathy Lindekens, Bednet Founding President

BRIDGING THE GAP

Bednet ensures that children and adolescents who are absent from school due to illness, surgery or pregnancy can continue attending lessons – from their home and with their own class. The decree on education calls this synchronous internet education (SIE) - real-time distance learning. It’s available for pre-school children from the age of 5 as well as primary and secondary school pupils in all certified state-subsidized schools in Flanders and Brussels (Belgium). In Bednet’s first full school year of operation (2007-2008) it supported 37 children, a number that kept growing every year and peaked at 1017 students this school year.

The development of the Bednet EdTech components started in 2007 as part of a research project called ASCIT by iMinds (Flemish research institute with a focus on information, communication and broadband technology, now a part of IMEC). ASCIT stands for 'Again at my School by fostering Communication through Interactive Technologies for long-term sick children’. This research project aimed at developing a technological solution to re-introduce long-term sick children back in the education process of their own class. From this project the first EdTech prototypes of the Bednet software platform and in-class hardware set-up were born, which over the course of the years have been fine-tuned to the current system:

  • In-class set-up: computer with screen, movable camera, microphone, printer and scanner
  • At home: software platform linked to the in-class set-up

This equipment, software and counselling are free for schools and families for as long as they are needed. Bednet uses their EdTech set-up and SIE to help prevent children falling behind at school, enabling 90% of children who benefit from their support to move up to the next class, despite their physical absence from school. It also helps children to feel less socially isolated by providing regular contact with their peers. Children forget about their illness and are temporarily back with their classmates. The non-profit organization always works with parents, schools and other partners, such as those providing temporary schooling at home, volunteers from hospital schools and a Belgian internet provider.

I have had a difficult school year because I could not attend classes for a long time, due to my illness (late‑stage Lyme disease). Thanks to Bednet, I could keep up with my classes and was able to sit my exams.

Aïscha – Bednet user

SYNCHRONOUS INTERNET EDUCATION IN PRACTICE

Bednet creates a live connection between sick children and their classmates, whereby pupils and teachers in class can see the absent child on a screen at the back of the classroom. This allows the child to participate digitally in regular education and makes an opening in the isolation of the child by enabling regular contacts with peers. The illness recedes to the background and the child is temporarily back with friends in his or her class group.

The Bednet software platform and hardware allow the child at home to digitally attend lessons and/or talk to their peers. Bednet uses a specifically designed straightforward system that is placed in the actual classroom and that can be accessed from home, which allows its users to actively participate in lessons from home just as if they were actually sitting in the classroom.

The child at home can:

  • Direct the in-class camera
  • Answer and ask questions
  • Raise a digital finger
  • Send and receive documents
  • Take part in group work

TESTIMONIAL

Video – Testimonial Bednet user

Louis can join in with everything: he gets new subject material from the teacher and does the same exercises. He also shares jokes and fun with his friends at school, he joins them in singalongs. In short, he feels he belongs again.

Parents of Louis – Bednet user

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