Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It's About Time ...

I was pleased (if somewhat surprised) to read this morning that young patients in the IWK (our regional children's hospital) will now be electronically hooked up to their classrooms.

No more missed school, right? Maybe.

The Blue Jay spent a lot of time in hospital, both locally and the IWK, while growing up. In fact, the IWK often felt like our second (and in many months, first) home. And I am a huge fan of the place. Most families might be able to see that they hope and pray they will never have to use it but are just happy to know that it's there. *Just in case*.

Our family says "Thank God that it's there. No, really. Thank you, God".

But of course there will always be some gripes, no matter how good the institution. One of my pet peeves was the Blue Jay's schooling. Or lack thereof.

Being in the hospital four times a year (like clockwork) for two weeks at a time definitely put a crimp in her education. And this was a child who could ill afford it. Take a child who is already delayed, already has difficulty learning and add in the regression caused by each bout of seizures. Not a pretty picture, even without taking into account the missed school time. And the week of post-ictal psychosis (there now, isn't that a nice term?) after coming home.

The IWK had a teacher, you see. One teacher.

Consider this. In 2003, there were "approximately 4,500 babies delivered at the IWK and Maritime children, women, youth and newborns spend approximately 260,000 days as inpatients or in clinics at the Health Centre". So, yeah. That's a few kids, I suppose. All to be served by one teacher.

So there were rules. We must have rules, mustn't we?

Time blurs the memory. Or maybe I just work hard to forget that time in our lives. But it went something like this ... you had to have been in the hospital for one week before you were eligible for the service. One week of missed school.

Okay, but what if you had already spent a total of two weeks in hospital that school year? But in your local hospital, not the IWK. "Hmm, good question, let us check into that."

"Oh wait, we know the answer. Your local school board will provide that service. Here's the name and contact number." With such a bright smile. Such helpful people. So pleased with themselves.

The only problem being that I was well-acquainted with this particular contact at the local school board and knew how far that would get me. I knew they didn't "offer that service". But you go through motions anyway. So you can be told "No" and take that response back to the hospital.

Actually as I recall, we finally did get that worked out. The IWK agreed that the Blue Jay would be automatically eligible for the services of a teacher if she had spent a total of seven days in any hospital that school year. Which was good.

Ironically that occurred just at the time that we got the Blue Jay's seizures under some semblance of control. Meaning a lot less two-week long hospitalizations. Not that I'm complaining. Not about that.

But let's just be clear here.

When we talk about the services of a teacher, that which we worked so hard to get, we are talking about one half-hour two to three times a week. So I don't think I was shooting for the moon here. And were we, ultimately, successful? Sure. After a lot of advocacy. Did I mention it took a lot? As an inordinate amount of time and mental energy? Right.

But wait, things are better now. Right?
The IWK launched the Child Life Interactive Computers for Kids pro­gram on Tuesday. The program al­lows patients to see and talk to their teachers and peers with a computer while they’re in the hospital.

The IWK is the first hospital in the Atlantic provinces to adopt the program.
With the click of a mouse, patients can listen and participate in the day’s lesson.

Austin Husbands, 9, tested out the virtual classroom, waving to all his friends at Sycamore Lane Elemen­tary School in Lower Sackville when they gave him a raucous hello. “It’s good because I can see my classmates and be with them," Aus­tin said.

The eager student said he misses French class the most because he wants to learn Canada’s other offi­cial language.

He’ll be able to do that by booting up a laptop at the hospital, connect­ing to a wireless network and using a webcam to be a part of the class.

It's great to see Microsoft contribute $400,000 to set the hospital up with the equip­ment and Aliant contribute $200,000 to provide Internet service. The program equips the hospital with a wireless network, hardware, software, technical support, Xbox systems and age-appropriate games.And the Microsoft funding also pays for a three-year contract for an individual to oversee the program and teach patients how to make the most of it.

But will it help that segment of the IWK in-patient population who, like the Blue Jay, require the services of a one-on-one teaching assistant? Even when they are actually physically present in the classroom with their teacher and peers?

Maybe not so much.

Nine-year-old Austin is quoted in the article as saying "“Technology is a powerful thing when used for good".

Know what, Austin? I agree completely. And I will even raise you one. Technology is a real boon to kids like the Blue Jay.

But just as the school often seemed to delight in telling me that it was just one of many tools to be used, might I suggest that as wonderful as this new program at the IWK will be, it won't be, it can't be, the be all and end all.

That the hospital will still require the services of a a real teacher (or two). A physical body with the appropriate training and experience. In the hospital. To help that large segment of their in-patient population for whom a wireless network, hardware, software and technical support will not be enough. At least that's my (admittedly somewhat) warped perspective.

But the Xbox? Cool. Appreciate that, Microsoft.


neardem said...

Wow! The idea of children connecting with their school and participating of a class as much as possible sounds absolutely fantastic. But I see what you mean when you say that it is not really for everybody - well at least not yet. But I'm sure it will be. Luckily the Blue Jay doesn't need to make use of this now as she would have before.

MMC said...

Neardem, it's always nice to see you back again.

I suppose I did come off as a bit overly pessimistic; this really is a big step forward. It's just that I always seem to see the footsteps to follow which need to come as well...