Edinburgh boy Keir Wallace is facing exclusion from his lessons as his fellow classmates’ parents are blocking the only way he can participate in class.
Wallace suffers from a rare auto-inflammatory condition that often leaves him bedridden, which means he is missing out on a significant portion of his education.
To remedy this and enable his son to participate in class, his father, John Wallace, invested in a remote learning robot that would take his place in class. However, parents at St John’s RC Primary School in Portobello are blocking the use of the unit in the classroom.
Despite reassurances over the robot’s security, the school is the only one in the world to ban its use. Currently, the AV1 unit is cleared for use by governmental and educational organisations across Europe.
Wallace Sr. has expressed anger at his son’s exclusion from class and believes that his son’s rights are being abused under the 2010 Equality Act.
He said: “This has to be highlighted, it is an abuse of a very sick child’s right to education. It is impossible to record the video stream or take a screenshot of what’s on the screen at home.
“How sad is it that my kid missed up to 50% of his school for nearly two years. An 11-year-old can’t go to school when the technology to allow that is sitting in my kitchen.”
Out of the 400 pupils in the school, 11 families have objected to its use. Wallace Sr. said that, as a result of the backlash, his son now thinks that the children at school hate him.
The AV1 robot was designed for children who have been in hospital for extended periods to enable them to continue their studies remotely from their hospital bed. The device can be controlled by the patient using an app on their iPad.
In October 2017, Wallace Sr. was granted permission to trial the robot at the school, but the device has never been permitted inside the school.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland’s Mornings with Laura Maxwell, Wallace Sr. said: “There are 850 of these in use around the world and this is the only school in the world where there has been a complaint.
“A tiny minority of vocal parents complained. They said they never knew about the security of it. But they have been given the facts. This thing is so secure – It has a 128-bit encrypted video stream that is impossible to crack.
“But the parents don’t believe that.”
Made by Norweigan company No Isolation, the 15-inch high robot gives sick children a telepresence in the classroom.
It can spin 360 degrees, allowing kids to participate in all types of class activities and it connects to the internet either via 4G or WiFi. It operates behind HTTPs protocol and can communicate via speakers with teachers and is even able to whisper to classmates.
The device is also equipped with a light to indicate the user’s hand is up to ask or answer a question, it has another light that shows that the child is there and listening but not feeling well enough to participate.
Already there are 850 robots in classrooms throughout the UK and Europe. Earlier this year, the UK Department for Education gave £4 million of funding for AV1s to be in every school in England and Wales.
In a statement to DIGIT, No Isolation, said: “As a product without precedent, designed for an environment in which safeguarding is paramount, privacy and security has been our priority throughout AV1’s development, in its current use, as well as future application.
“AV1 has multiple layers of security including an end-to-end encrypted live stream (with no storage of data at any point), and a password-enabled unique connection between avatar and the user’s device. Each AV1 is connected to only one device – should that device be lost, the user needs a new keyword before they can log on.
“The user and their parents digitally accept our terms and conditions which state that no one other than the selected child can have access to the live stream. A breach of this would result in a termination of use.
“We value security and privacy enormously as we develop tools to help some of the most socially isolated children in society access their education and remain connected with their friends.”
Believing the situation to be an example of how modern technology challenges current legislation, Andrew Tickell, a legal expert from Glasgow Caledonian University, told the BBC: “On one hand you have the absolute right for reasonable adjustments on the part of this boy and you can understand why his father wants him to go to school and get the best education he can.
“But on the other hand you have the substantial right to privacy and that was substantially beefed up by the 2018 legislation on data protection. In terms of reasonable adjustments, interests and rights of others can be taken into account.”
Commenting in response to the situation, a City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: “We remain fully committed to trialling technology to help pupils access the curriculum so they feel fully included. An example is our teachers at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children who have used technology to help pupils access their lessons.
“The proposed trial of the AV1 device has generated queries from parents about the technical aspects of such adaptations in the classroom environment. These include internet safety and data privacy impact assessments and we will continue our positive discussions with the manufacturer over its potential use in our schools.”