Learning is healing - KórházSuli celebrates 5th anniversary

Student volunteers help ill children with their studies 

KórházSuli has been supporting the education and school reintegration of children with a long-term illness staying at home or in a hospital for five years now. Secondary school and university students of the same age as patients help them catch up and acquire the curriculum. Doctors claim that this activity also has the potential to accelerate the healing process. At the same time, the children involved go through a self-discovery and personal growth process. In 2014, Hungary had about 1,500 private pupils due to illness. Owing to the shortcomings of the healthcare system, these children can only occasionally exercise their right to appropriate education while recovering from their illness. The KórházSuli Foundation tries to fill the gap between educational and healthcare institutions using volunteers. 

Since it was established in 2014, KórházSuli Foundation and its 1,500 volunteers have facilitated the education and reintegration of about 400 children excluded from standard education due to illness or accident. According to a report by the Educational Authority, Hungary had about 1,400 private students due to illness in 2014 and the number of these children has been rising since. Although several formerly terminal illnesses can be cured today, patients may need years of hospital or home care to recover. During this time, it is a basic interest and right of ill children to access education appropriate for their condition and capabilities. For hospitalized children, not only recovery, but also acquiring the curriculum and catching up with schoolmates pose a major challenge. The status of chronically ill children staying permanently at home is unresolved at a national level despite legal regulations in place. 

Aiming to address this issue, the KórházSuli programme is based on three pillars: 

1.    Supported by a hospital teacher or other professional, hospitalized children get in touch with a team of students and a secondary school teacher who develop an interactive and personalized learning material for them. 
2.    Personal and/or online mentoring/tutoring: ill children staying at home are supported in learning by university students under a teacher’s guidance and parental supervision 
3.    Community building fostering both integration and inclusion: joint art sessions, concerts and camps create an opportunity for young patients and volunteers to meet in an informal setting.

This way, ill children get peer support to catch up with their classmates, reintegrate into their school environment and keeping in touch with the outside world in an isolated environment. Based on the experience of doctors participating in the programme, children with goals tend to be more active also in their healing process. Once recovered, former patients often remain in the programme as curriculum developers, that is, they join the team of volunteering university and secondary school students. As the programme heavily relies on the skills and volunteer efforts of student supporters, KórházSuli develops the knowledge and social sensitivity of many healthy children. Working together with their teacher, volunteer students create genuine value and help ill children grow at their own pace, in a playful manner. While developing learning materials, volunteers themselves acquire new knowledge and they also grow personally through volunteer efforts that make them more sensitive to helping those in need. 

The teachers of educational institutions also need to be involved in the programme to facilitate the smooth reintegration of KórházSuli patients in their school environment. As the Moodle curriculum development system can be used to promote the involvement of parent institutions, the Foundation aims to elaborate a process to support closer institutional involvement as a next step. Children permanently excluded from the school setting study in a digital environment, therefore, their teachers also need to feel comfortable in the digital space. Being the main sponsor of KórházSuli from the outset, Telenor developed its own teacher training course for the programme accredited by the Educational Authority of the Ministry of Human Resources. Telenor offers free digital training to the teachers and volunteer supporters of the schools of young patients. This way, teachers can acquire modern and up-to-date teaching methods and be prepared to help their students returning from a long-term illness.

“Without external support, children suffer more and more losses during their stay at home. They get isolated from the outside world, become excluded and exposed, lose most of their relationships and feel their basic role as a student damaged. At the same time, while they have to redesign their goals and future, their life and self-esteem get undermined. These children can easily become unmotivated while they also have to tolerate physical pain. In the KórházSuli programme, we are building a community where everyone benefits. Young patients can continue their education, and their volunteering peers and supporters will grow to become adults knowing the joy of volunteer contribution”, said Mónika Tóth Almássy, head of the KórházSuli programme who had worked as a hospital teacher in a child oncology ward for 15 years before. 

Dr. György Velkey, General Director of MRE Bethesda Children’s Hospital, considers KórházSuli an innovative way of teaching adjusted to the needs and illness of permanently hospitalized children. “Bethesda Children’s Hospital is proud to be the reference institution of this broad-based sensitisation programme. The innovative approach and can-do attitude of KórházSuli volunteers provide valuable daily support for our patients and the specialists facilitating their recovery.” 

“When you give your child a pencil, you then teach them to use it for drawing, writing or making calculations. When you give your child a mobile device, you tend to watch them helplessly as an outsider doing nothing. This will cause major damage to your child. We think that we simply cannot leave students and teachers alone and let them struggle with this issue on their own”, said Attila Mészáros, Corporate Communication Director of Telenor.

A committed sponsor of Hungarian healthcare and education, Richter Gedeon Nyrt. has been contributing to the implementation of KórházSuli goals for three years. „KórházSuli is a stop-gap initiative important for us because the efforts and attention of its volunteers promote children’s recovery and ensure that their illness would not prevent them from acquiring quality knowledge and realizing their dreams”, said Lajos Csaba, Deputy Head of Richter Gedeon’s PR and Government Relations Office.

KórházSuli in numbers
•    KórházSuli has supported more than 400 children in 18 hospitals for the past 5 years 
•    The 1,500 volunteers come from 19 secondary schools and 7 universities across the country 
•    The Moodle curriculum development system deployed two academic years ago was used to develop 190 online learning materials and to manage 1,000 one-to-one classes. 

Any parent can be affected 
•    Most patients involved in KórházSuli have a somatic illness, but the number of those struggling with psychosomatic and mental issues is also on the rise 
•    Participants include the victims of accidents and sports injuries, patients with burns or spine injuries, children treated in oncology wards, transplant patients, and young people with a pulmonary disease, muscle atrophy, Chron’s disease or a mental condition

KórházSuli develops children’s
•    cooperation skills: in the development teams, every member is responsible for a different chapter, and they put the pieces together to create the learning material 
•    creativity: rather than copy and paste parts of a textbook into an electronic format, developers need to explore and integrate many sources, produce videos, etc. 
•    communication skills: students can become mentors and then trainers of the programme, they can deliver presentations and tutor ill children

KórházSuli is a stop-gap initiative because it promotes 
•    the reintegration of children falling behind in their studies due to an illness 
•    the social sensitization of healthy youth 
•    the adoption of 21st century teaching tools 
•    the broadening of the horizon of young people involved in teacher training 

KórházSuli events
•    Annual art exhibitions displaying pieces of art about a specific subject created by patients and their healthy peers
•    Integration camps
•    Christmas concerts
•    Open hospital events 

Foreign examples, best practices 
•    Countries taking the lead in hospital education have recognized that with the duration of children’s hospital stay declining, flexible education systems need to be implemented for children regardless whether they recover in a hospital environment or at home. 
•    In Germany and several other Western European countries, hospital schools are an integral part of e.g. child psychiatry wards.
•    In Holland, teachers from the patients’ school and volunteering adults help children pursue their studies at home. 
•    In Belgium, an online learning system is provided to those in need, 
•    In Vienna, hospital teachers visit children recovering at home. 

Testimonials: 

Adrienn Vargay, Clinical Psychologist
“I could praise KórházSuli from a psychological perspective for several reasons, but for me its key merit is that it builds on cooperation. For the programme to work, you need open and committed young people on both sides who trust and encourage each other and are ready to take responsibility for one another. Learning about each other’s pace and mindset, they acquire new knowledge in an empirical way. And it is not only knowledge, as programme participants mutually shape and enrich each other. This experience contributes to their personal growth both directly and indirectly and allows them to become emotionally mature, responsible, empathic and stable adults.”

Enikő Varga, Hospital Teacher
“KórházSuli is an opportunity that makes learning easier for ill children struggling with burdens such as isolation and exclusion. It opens up their world. They not only obtain knowledge in an entertaining way but also get efficient support from their healthy peers and meet a team whose members work to make it easier for them to fight difficulties on the way to recovery. KórházSuli not only helps children catch up with their studies, but also strengthens them and opens them new vistas for growth. Using 21st century methods and experiential education tools, the programme is constantly adapted to new needs.”

Anett, student recovering at home 
“Under the KórházSuli programme, I received support for my year-end exam in literature and next year’s school-leaving final exams. My experience has been very positive to date. When I met Bíborka for the first time, we identified our common goals, the things I need help with and agreed on the structure of classes. We talk 1 hour each week on Skype analysing literary pieces which helps me adapt a new approach to literature. We agreed that our classes would focus on speaking and I get handouts about them in the end. Bíborka was well-prepared for each class, asked interesting questions and helped me discover new insights. As a result, I felt more confident at my exam than ever before and even my teachers were impressed by my composure and level of knowledge. I think that the KórházSuli programme is a great initiative to support young people with a long-term illness.”