HospiEdu is a community of volunteers who are secondary school and university students. They support the learning of those fellow students who are unable to attend school for months or even years due to a serious illness, accident or mental issues. These students find themselves in crisis situations, isolated from their peers. Learning together is a home-based activity supporting the healing process.
In Hungary we have some organised education provisions for children in hospital, but nothing for those who are out of hospital and not yet healthy enough to go to school. I used to be one of the teachers working in hospitals and realised that something needs to be done.
Traditional hospital schools are not effective for many reasons (lack of engaging and joyful methodology, little time, no consideration of the learning process of the individual child, etc.), and once a child leaves the hospital, they are totally on their own with their parents. In a country of about 1.5 million school students about 1500 children drop out of school for longer periods annually, so about 1 in 1000 are affected. We had started HospiEdu (Kórházsuli) to support the learning of these children making it possible for them to return to their regular life without glitches as soon as possible.
Although our national legislation obliges schools to provide 10 hours of tuition per week to students who cannot attend school for health reasons, in reality, it is very rarely offered. In most cases there are no human resources, these children are physically too far from school to be supported, and teachers are not prepared for working with very ill children that need a different methodology.
As a result, children already overwhelmed by pain, treatment and other aspects for their illness are isolated from their peers and often also from community. This has an impact on their general well-being, and thus being away from school doesn’t only result in stagnating or declining cognitive skills, they often go into mental decline.
HospiEdu is a methodology that combines face-to-face learning opportunities and digital means, providing individualised education. We provide all children who participate in the programme with a digital school bag containing material prepared for them by our secondary school student volunteers, teaching material developed by pre-service teacher volunteers and material provided by the school that the child will go back to. This way, volunteers can build on each other’s work and also create a direct link to what is happening at the original school of ill children.
Educational and social rehabilitation and re-integration of students undergoing a healing process is carried out in a system that has been built and controlled with great professional care. Besides our mentoring activities, we also organise community events making it possible for ill children to meet their peer supporters. This way, ill children can experiment communicating with healthy peers, being open about their illness.
A more recent aim of our programme is to offer professional support to school communities in order to make it easier for children to return when they are healthy again. We find it very important for children to understand what happens to a classmate who suddenly disappears from daily school life, to burst some myths and certain taboos related to serious illnesses (especially cancer) in order to help them maintain friendships and connections, and to also make them understand that their friend may or may not come back.
One element that I find very important is how we work with our volunteers. After 5 years I am confident to say that they gain a lot from the programme while their time investment is essential for us. Professional care I mentioned before does not only mean that we quality-assure material and processes, but that we also need to prepare and mentor them with regards to dealing with people who are seriously ill.
For success, we need to ensure an increased well-being and thus inclusion of seriously ill children, ensuring mental health and well-being of our volunteers is equally important. We also put a big emphasis on recognising volunteer achievement.
This is a means for us to ensure sustainability and aim for the inclusion of as many of our target group as possible
By Monika Almássy-Tóth
This story is part of Multinclude Inclusion Stories about how equity is implemented in different educational environments across the globe. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Author is the president of the foundation implementing the Hospiedu programme.