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Tuesday, February 26, 2013



Virtual babies for Birmingham schoolgirls as they get a lesson in motherhood

Acocks Green school pupils given lifelike dolls in need of feeding, changing, sleep and all-round care. 

Parent-training dolls await their new 'mums' at Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School
What’s it like juggling homework with a screaming baby, countless nappy changes and no sleep? Education Correspondent Kat Keogh finds out how one city school is giving their pupils a taste of teenage parenthood – with the help of a virtual baby.
For most teenagers, their life is a whirlwind of homework, school discos, first kisses and social media.
But for hundreds of schoolgirls the carefree years are dramatically cut short as they fall pregnant.
Latest figures from the city council reveal there were more than 700 teenage pregnancies across Birmingham during 2011.
In Acocks Green, some 31 girls aged 15-17 became pregnant – one of the highest numbers of any city ward.
But one local school which is doing its bit to give pupils a lesson in the realities of parenthood is Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School.
Earlier this month, the Acocks Green school took a special delivery of 30 “virtual babies”; life-like dolls which are programmed to cry, sleep and wet their nappies.


The 7lb dolls are far from dummies, and mimic the behaviour of a young baby in needing to be fed, burped, changed, rocked and cared for.
A group of 30 girls signed up to the challenge of taking care of their own infant for three days.
An electronic chip records everything that happens to the baby while in the pupil’s care – whether they well looked after or not. The girls suffered sleepless nights and saw their social lives take a back seat as their doll demanded round the clock care.
Gayle Wattrus, head of health and social care at Archbishop Ilsley, said the project was designed to show how caring for a baby is a full-time job.
“The aim of the programme is to enable our young people to learn from experience what it is means to become a parent,” she said of the scheme, which is now in its fourth year at the school.
“This unique weekend gives our young people a real eye opener of how hard it is to be a parent, especially a working parent and allows them to make informed choices about their future.
“We don’t want to put them off having children, but this is about showing them how difficult it would be to have a child to look after at their age, and the huge responsibility which goes with being a teenage parent.”
Among those who signed up to the scheme was sixth form student Hannah Jackson.
The 17-year-old was able to leave her doll in a special “virtual baby crèche” while she attended lessons, but had to enlist the help of her family to help her look after the tot over the weekend.

Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School pupils with their dolls
  Hannah also revealed people reacted differently to her with a child in tow, and how she even took a taxi to school to avoid comments from bus passengers.
“I was on the bus with a pushchair and the baby in it that I realised I was getting strange looks,” she said.
“One woman on the bus turned round and asked me how old the baby was. I had to explain it was not a real baby, but a robot baby and the reason for having it.
“She then laughed and said that I did look a bit young to have a baby.”
The virtual babies have now been sent back the manufacturer, which will download a “care report” to show how the pupils fared.
All pupils, and their families, have also completed evaluation forms on how they found the experience.
“We find the experience has on the girls’ families too.
“It promotes discussions in the family which they might not have had before about teenage pregnancy.
“But perhaps the biggest lesson of all is just how difficult it is to look after a baby, and still be a teenager who goes to school and enjoying a social life.”

Archbishop Ilsley Catholic school pupils Tegan Kelly (14) and Hannah Jackson (17) with their dolls

My baby diary

by Archbishop Ilsley School pupil Tegan Kelly, aged 14.
• Thursday 5pm
My baby has just been activated. It’s been amazing, so far so good.
At the present moment it looks like it’s just having a nice sleep, hopefully she isn’t a fussy baby.
• Friday 12am
Really can’t believe my baby is awake and crying so loudly this time of the morning because it wants a long feed – I can’t even keep my eyes open!
• Friday 4.30am
My attempt at sleep didn’t work whatsoever and the feeling I have school today, which makes me feel even worse.
I want sleep please!
• Friday 5.30am
Might as well get up and get the baby dressed, because I know she isn’t going to sleep.
As I was getting her dressed she looked so nice. I put her hat and coat on so I could get ready for school myself, but that didn’t happen.
She started crying and I presumed it was a nappy change so I had to take all her clothes off, but when I put her new nappy on she still kept crying.
• Friday 3pm
Just picked my baby up from the crèche – here’s where the nightmare begins.
Getting a lift home from school because I’m not getting on public transport with this fake baby.
• Friday 4.30pm
Trying to get ready to go to my youth group and my baby is crying again for absolutely nothing, why can’t it be quiet for just ten minutes?
• Friday 9pm
Just got home from my youth group, what a crazy night.
The baby played up the entire night and didn’t stop crying. Felt like it wanted to drink a whole cow and didn’t burp for what felt like years.
I’m going to bed very tired tonight.
• Saturday 7am
My baby is up and dressed, it has had a bottle and has been burped. I just might get myself a cup of tea and relax before she starts crying again.
• Saturday 12pm
My baby is starting to get even better. She went to sleep at 10am and slept for two hours until now, that did me good.
My mum has kindly made me a full cooked breakfast. The baby isn’t even crying, I can’t hear a peep out of her.

Training doll strapped in for a walk

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