Remember the height of COVID, when collective trauma and isolation went viral, and the world ground to a halt? Understandably, it’s something we’d rather forget.

However, the end of another year marks a pivotal time for reflection, and while talk of lockdowns and social distancing has become little more than a “remember when…” conversation, the pandemic taught us a vital lesson we must never forget.

Put simply, we are not alone.

Indeed, it became the anthem – We’re all in this together – that we sang or hummed along to during seemingly endless lockdowns.

On reflection, through collective isolation and lived experience of day-to-day trauma of a complex health crisis, the COVID era taught us adjustments can – and must – be made to stay connected to friends, loved ones, work and school when we can’t be physically present.

Here, there’s no question a silver lining of the pandemic is that it emphasised the essential role of technology during a health crisis and created a world in which “work from anywhere” has become a mainstay.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of schools in our post-COVID new normal.

Today, up to a third or 1.2 million Australian school aged children face complex medical or mental health challenges serious enough to affect their education and attendance, with numbers into the hundreds of thousands already missing significant school time.

Beyond the everyday trauma of their health crisis, they feel forgotten and isolated from school through no fault of their own.

The encouraging news is schools, post-COVID, can turn telepresence technology back on and follow workplaces into the 21st century by championing a “learn from anywhere” system for students who can’t physically attend.

This change is not only necessary, it’s immediately achievable at scale. The technology is already in schools.

Telepresence technology (covering everything from robots to web conferencing tools) enables continuous learning from anywhere, and should be included in schools’ transformation agenda, in Australia and globally. It offers students with chronic medical and mental health absences continuity of classroom access, consistent curriculum, equality of opportunity, and learning alongside peers.

Telepresence technology also lets teachers teach lessons once, easing already stretched workloads and classroom complexity.

Our charity, MissingSchool is on a mission to get learning from anywhere mainstreamed to meet the educational and social needs of students with health challenges through “business as usual” practices in their schools by 2025.

We want to see schools become flexible learning centres suitable to all students’ needs. Just as schools provide wheelchair ramps, they must adopt synchronous telepresence technology to support students who can’t be there in person.

All children should have equality of opportunity in education. All children should be seen and heard.

Building on the success of Australia’s first school telepresence robot service, See-Be, MissingSchool is now accelerating its groundbreaking initiative, Seen&Heard, launched as a one-year pilot in February 2023, thanks to a Commonwealth grant and seed funding from TPG Telecom Foundation.

Seen&Heard is driving the adoption of “teach once” telepresence technology (including robots) in schools and offering real-time assistance to students and their families, training teachers, fostering peer support, and producing world-leading research.

Critically, Seen&Heard will forge a nationally coordinated approach at the intersection of health and education to assist schools and families with essential details about health impacts on students’ education and wellbeing, and what needs to happen to keep learning and wellbeing alive from anywhere.

Enter NIEDs, aka the Australia-first National Insights for Education Directories.

Launched in October, NIEDs takes the form of a groundbreaking one-stop digital hub. In full development, it will empower parents, carers and teachers with trustworthy just-in-time linkages, information, and resources related to health impacts on students’ school outcomes.

NIEDs will unlock unique data, covering everything from teacher and parent insights to education system information contained in easily searchable digital directories of:

  • 500+ medical, health, mental health, and support service organisations;
  • Australia’s public, independent, and faith-based schools;
  • Relevant curated content from state and territory education websites; and
  • Over 4,000 qualitative quotes and insights from parents and teachers.

The goal is to prioritise the learning and wellbeing journeys of these students alongside their peers by supporting their families and teachers at the point of pressing need via activation of a powerful alliance of organisations at the intersection of health and education.

Ongoing conversations with education and health professionals, organisations, and families themselves, will complement NIEDs as the alliance communicates through in-depth weekly webcasts exploring experiences, evidence, and examples at the frontline of caring for students living with complex health challenges.

Parents and carers of students with complex medical and mental health challenges can also access support through MissingSchool’s digital Helpline, Parent Facebook Group, and weekly ‘Ask Us Anything’ webinars.

I co-founded MissingSchool after experiencing the pain of feeling scared and helpless when my son, Darcy, at the age of 10 (in 2010), was diagnosed with three rare blood disorders, one of which was pre-leukemia.

My focus was on keeping him alive after he was flown from our home in Canberra to Sydney Children’s Hospital, ultimately undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

As a mother, I’m forever grateful for the medical support and lifesaving treatments that allowed Darcy to lead a happy, healthy life. Today, he is a thriving 23-year-old who loves fitness and travel, and is currently spending six months in Japan on a Japanese language university exchange.

Looking back, I wish I’d had the support and guidance to reduce the trauma Darcy experienced from his critical illness, treatments, and missing two years of school. The experience taught me a powerful lesson: we can’t wait until these kids are well to enable some sense of normalcy and belonging.

Nor can we expect them to easily regain their sense of self – a sense that is critically shaped during their formative years through ongoing connections with classmates, teachers and learning – without dedicated support when they are absent through no fault of their own.

Fast forward over a decade, and MissingSchool’s mission remains the same: to ensure that all children are seen and heard, maintaining their “presence” in school and receiving support to access and engage in learning from anywhere.

A big part of this is taking informed action to give families in management fatigue genuine care. Find out how to access MissingSchool’s suite of real time support and resources here.


About MissingSchool CEO and Co-Founder Megan Gilmour

Social innovator and technology trailblazer, Megan Gilmour, co-founded MissingSchool in 2012 after watching her son, Darcy, struggle with a two-year period of school isolation due to a life-threatening illness. Since then, she has led the not-for-profit, tirelessly advocating for the needs of students with complex medical and mental health conditions, their families, teachers and peers through awareness; resources; capacity building; activating human-centred telepresence technology; and world-leading research. Megan’s work has been recognised nationally and internationally. In 2018, she was a finalist for the ACT Australian of the Year Awards. She has also been recognised as one of AFR’s 100 Women of Influence, and was awarded the Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year for Purpose and Social Enterprise in 2019. She is also a Churchill Policy Fellow, a Deakin University Honorary Fellow and 2020 Alumna of Year. For more information, visit:

Did you know? A donation of $75 or the cost of three adult movie tickets, will help one child with a complex health condition to access school for one week from hospital or home. Much of the work of MissingSchool is possible thanks to public donations. More donations are needed to scale use of telepresence technology (including but not limited to telepresence robots) to all schools by 2025. Donate here.