An independent school in Wales is to combine virtual reality with artificial intelligence to help children build resilience and develop coping strategies
"Mental health is a top priority for us, and we believe that incorporating technology, like Verbee and the immersive VR environment, into our support system will make a substantial difference in the lives of our students.” Alun Millington, headteacher, Redhill
Redhill High School, an independent secondary school in Pembrokeshire, is to pilot an immersive virtual reality environment to help pupils manage their anxiety.
The software application, Arisaig Isle, is being provided by the VR Hive, a Scottish start-up headquartered in Lochaber. The school is combining the use of the software, which sits on The Hive immersive learning platform, with support from Verbee, an artificial intelligence coach.
Arisaig Isle, which has been developed in partnership with mental health professionals and educators, provides a variety of customisable experiences. These enable students to engage in therapeutic activities linked to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and personal, social, health and economic (PSHE ) education.
The Verbee AI coach companion utilises artificial intelligence to interact with users, providing personalised guidance and support. Verbee, developed with a £150k grant from SE Smart, is an animated classroom assistant that works within the virtual reality environment. It’s designed to be a responsive, empathetic companion that assists children in developing healthy coping strategies, particularly in dealing with anxiety, and build resilience.
Redhill and The VR Hive will work closely during the project’s testing phase, with the school providing feedback to help refine and better the user experience. Anne Widdop, the founder of The VR Hive and a former global director at IBM, said: “Collaborating with leaders in the educational sector is critical to developing the best solution for the challenges being faced by children today, which is why we are excited to be working with a sector-leading school like Redhill.”
Alun Millington, Redhill’s headteacher said the school was “thrilled” to partner with the VR Hive: “Mental health is a top priority for us, and we believe that incorporating technology, like Verbee and the immersive VR environment, into our support system will make a substantial difference in the lives of our students.”
The VR Hive has developed multiple software applications, aimed at different sectors, all of which use The Hive, the company’s immersive learning platform. The company believes that AI, which is integrated into the platform, has an increasingly important role to play in education. The aim, it says, is not to “take over” the role of teacher, but “to enhance the learning environment, provide more personal experiences and instant feedback.” It argues that AI “has the potential to transform education in ways that can make education more human, not less.”
The company’s website says that young people in the UK “risk leaving school without the skills they need for the future, including soft skills such as creative thinking, digital skills, problem solving and collaboration. Less than half of educators in UK schools feel that classrooms are set up to facilitate modern learning. Teachers are also more likely to instruct on how to use technology, rather than create it.”
By incorporating virtual and augmented reality, the company says, including “simulations, game-based experiences, and other interactive elements,” immersive learning “allows learners to access a more engaging and realistic environment that translates into greater knowledge retention and increased learner confidence compared to traditional teaching methods.”
We have seen a rise in mental health problems among school-age children, which has been particularly marked since the pandemic. Demand for NHS mental health services is sky-high. We need to be looking at alternatives, and it’s encouraging to see schools such as Redhill investigating the potential of virtual reality and artificial intelligence to support children to develop resilience. The VR Hive is a relatively new company, but it clearly has ambitions to transform the way children learn as well as to help them create their own coping strategies. We await the outcomes of the Redhill pilot with interest.