Bednet provides vital school link to sick children

Summary

The non-profit that offers online education to children with long-term illnesses is 10 years old

Preventing isolation

Bednet, the non-profit organisation that offers networked home education for long-term sick children, is celebrating its 10th anniversary, marking the event with new technology, a blue cat and a superhero.

Bednet provides distance education via the internet for children who cannot attend school because of a medical condition; patients include children in quarantine after a bone marrow transplant and, as in most cases, those undergoing treatment for cancer whose immune system could not tolerate a classroom full of kids.

“Bednet uses internet education to help long-term sick children avoid being isolated,” said Flanders’ education minister Hilde Crevits at the anniversary celebration. “User testimonials show what a fine job Bednet does in the interests of education and in contact with classmates. Schools also says that Bednet enriches the educational atmosphere.”

In Bednet’s first full year of operation, 2007-2008, there were 37 children involved. Last year that number had gone up to 230. Right now, there are 156 children in Flanders taking part.

More than 1,000 children have now been helped, and the organisation has links via those children with one in seven schools in Flanders and Brussels. Two out of three children in the network are at secondary level. Almost two-thirds have – or had – cancer, while nine out of 10 users complete their school year successfully after studying with Bednet. 

A broader social impact

Other new developments include a knitted mascot called De Blauwe Poes (The Blue Cat). Anyone can get the pattern, make one and give it to a Bednet child. There is also a superhero called – what else? – Bedman, who’ll be appearing on posters and campaign materials. 

For sick children, the classroom is a very important bridge to normal life

- Professor Yves Benoit

“What we offer is not just important in helping children avoid falling behind in class; the provision of education has a much broader impact,” said Professor Yves Benoit, of the paediatric cancer centre at Ghent University Hospital, who works closely with Bednet. “Illness can lead to serious social isolation, as the bonds a child has developed with classmates and friends come under pressure. For sick children and young people, the classroom is an enormously important bridge to normal life.”

This year Bednet will once again be taking part in Music for Life, the annual charity fundraiser organised by Studio Brussel, which runs from 18 to 24 December. Last year money raised went to pay for new software to allow more children to use the network. This year the number of users is rising, so computer equipment is “welcome and essential”, say organisers. Donations are welcome.

Photo courtesy Bednet

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma