BERLIN (Reuters) – Joshua Martinangeli, 7, is too ill to go to school. But the German student can still interact with his teacher and classmates through an avatar robot that sits in class in his place and sends a blinking signal when he has something to say.
“The children talk to him, laugh with him and sometimes even chitchat with him during the lesson. Joshi can do that quite well, too,” Ute Winterberg, headmistress at the Pusteblume-Grundschule in Berlin, told Reuters in an interview.
Joshua cannot attend classes because he wears a tube in his neck due to a severe lung disease, said his mother, Simone Martinangeli.
The project is a private initiative paid for by the local council in the Berlin district Marzahn-Hellersdorf.
“We are the only district in Berlin that has bought four avatars for its schools. The impetus was COVID-19, but I think this will be the future well beyond the pandemic,” said district education councillor Torsten Kuehne.
“It does happen from time to time, for various reasons, that a child cannot go to class in person. Then, the avatar can give that child a chance to remain part of the school community,” Kuehne said.
He added that he had already brought up the project in political discussions at a state level.
“I like it either way because I like the avatar,” said student Noah Kuessner when asked if he is looking forward to seeing Joshua again.
“And I would like it better if Joshi could really come to school,” said another classmate, Beritan Aslanglu.
(Reporting by Gabi Sajonz-Grimm, Oliver Barth and Fanny Brodersen; Writing by Zuzanna Szymanska; Editing by Miranda Murray and Raissa Kasolowsky)