Friday, June 11, 2021

Issue:

Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Learning In A Virtual World

Virtual Reality (VR) is teaching children with disabilities at Mackay District Special School how to safely cross the street, work in a café or just make a transaction at the ATM, as well as other vital life skills which will help them transition to more independent lives post-schooling.

Mackay Special School has started this extraordinary program thanks to the Endeavour Foundation, Arrow Energy and the Gladys Myrtle Brown Charitable Trust who donated over $250,000 over two years to the initiative.

Endeavour Foundation worked with the Queensland University of Technology to develop the program which allows kids to feel like they’re playing a video game while still learning valuable skills.

“We originally developed these tools for our Adult Learning and Lifestyle day services, however, they’re perfect for school students,” Endeavour Foundation Service Design Partner Chris Beaumont said.

Mr Beaumont has been working closely with the Mackay Special School to run this program, where kids use a gaming computer, VR headset, software and training to run specialised VR learning programs – all of which was provided by the Endeavour Foundation.

“It is making a big difference because students can build awareness of traffic and safety while in a safe, virtual world,” Mackay District Special School Deputy Principal Sereta Uitenweerde said.

Teacher Ria Erlank has been teaching in one of the VR learning hubs since January, being one of the 17 in regional and rural Queensland schools.

“It is amazing; they take to it so well because it’s modern and it feels like a game, not like work. Having kids be bogged down in paperwork all the time, this is better because it’s hands-on,” Ms Erlank said.

The barista program that Endeavour has designed is based on a coffee shop in their own offices, where graduates with disabilities are now working after learning vital barista skills in the VR program.

They’re hoping to make some more programs over time that will be aimed at more real-world applicable skills and situations, with a potential for teaching driving lessons via the program.

There is no overstating how important these types of endeavours are for children with disabilities and their development of life-skills.

“It’s so important for them to just do it, because it’s the best way for them to learn and it’s so good for them to practice that safety; I think that is the biggest advantage of all this,” she said.

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