Project based learning at the Royal Children's Hospital: implications for improving learning in an out-of-school setting

Year: 2013

Author: Hopkins, Liza

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Children and young people who miss school due to a health condition are at risk of poorer educational and social outcomes across a range of indicators. A growing body of research evidence is suggesting the importance of maintaining or re-establishing students' connections to and engagement with education despite interruptions due to the need for health care. Much of this work focuses on the efforts which can be made by schools to educate classmates and teachers about a particular child's condition and the interventions which the school can make to improve individual outcomes. Comparatively less attention has been paid to the role of hospital based education support in keeping children and young people connected during their period of absence.Our research at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne demonstrates the importance of keeping students engaged with learning during their absence from school for health care. In this paper we begin by presenting a model of student-centred learning which supports students in the hospital to remain engaged with learning. Teachers, students and parents work together to develop an individual learning plan (ILP) for each child, and identify the learning projects best suited to meeting both the interest and the learning needs of the individual. This approach facilitates communication between students, teachers, schools and health-care staff in ensuring that the individual child's learning needs are being identified and met during their hospital stay. It also ensures that the student is connected or re-connected to an appropriate educational setting when they are discharged from the hospital's care.When we compare this model to other forms of education support for students with health conditions around Australia we find a great diversity of models and systems. Such models vary by state and location (metropolitan hospitals compared with regional hospitals), as well as by whether a particular student is treated in a specialist paediatric hospital, in a paediatric ward in an adult hospital or in a general medical service. Such diversity reflects the lack of clear evidence-informed public policy about what are the most appropriate interventions and supports for this cohort of students at risk. We conclude with an examination of the implications for public policy in initiating and implementing evidence-informed educational support for students with health conditions.