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Boy, 7, attends class, interacts with others using avatar robot

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, sometimes... even during lessons. Joshi can do that quite well, too," said Ms Ute Winterberg, headmistress at the Pusteblume-Grundschule in Berlin.

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 of 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."

Mr Kuehne added that he had already brought up the project in political discussions at a state level.

Joshua, with his brother Martin next to him, interacts with others in class.PHOTO: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE

"I like it either way because I like the avatar," said student Noah Kuessner when asked if he was looking forward to seeing Joshua again.

"I would like it better if Joshi could really come to school," said another classmate, Beritan Aslanglu.

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