Education in COVID-19.

Education in COVID-19.

Whilst our nation’s leaders are for the most part on the same page in its collective response to COVID-19, Monday’s (27th of April) Q and A panel identified just how divided our education policy makers really are. How can we minimise the impact on this year’s education whilst protecting the health of our teachers?  

At the very heart of the divide remains the inconsistent messaging filtering from top to bottom. The Federal Government maintains that children are at low risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 with Prime Minister Morrison recently stressing, We’ve had hardly any cases in children, in primary school children, and the international experience is that it is a very, very low risk of symptomatic infection.’ Yet despite classrooms remaining open until end of term 2, Morrison is allowing those that do wish to keep their children at home, are welcome.

Whilst the Federal Government has no direct influence on rules for schools, it has applied significant pressure to State Governments by appealing to the public, with Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy stating that ‘the proportion of children (infected) is very small, we believe that schools are a safe environment to open.’

This pressure, however, hasn’t forced the hand of all state governments. Victoria has decided to continue remote learning for the remainder of Term 2, with schools only open for children of essential workers, or those at risk. State Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton doesn’t share the same opinion as Murphy, with Sutton only willing to open schools should the evidence support it, which he believes, does not,

‘We don’t know the extent to which kids might have asymptomatic illness and be transmitting it to each other. It is comforting that kids don’t get, by and large, serious illness, but that’s not the same question.’

With almost all other sates following a similar path, New South Wales public school students will remain at home for the opening two weeks of Term 2. May the 11th will see students return to school in person one day a week, ramping up gradually over the course of the term.

Queensland as of the 20th of April have already allowed 13% of its students to return to school, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk acting on the advice of her own Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young, the concern is about teachers in their staffrooms, and also the before and after pick up; we are not going to rush this, we are going to get this right and I will not put the lives of our teachers, principals, school community, parents and children at risk. We will take a measured response to this.’

On Monday’s Q and A panel, Federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth addressed this policy inconsistency by agreeing with host Hamish MacDonald that a lack of unity in addressing nationwide education concerns is confusing, ‘when we see the different states are doing different things… that can send a confusing message.’

The forgotten sentiment in the education narrative over the past month has been the safety and wellbeing of the unsung heroes, the teachers. Posed to Education Minister Dan Tehan on Monday night, high school teacher Karla Owen asked, ‘

Parliament originally stated that they would sit in August, this has now been brought forward to mid-May. Part of the reason for this is due to the issue surrounding social distancing. But ScoMo has said all along that schools are a safe place to be. What makes parliamentarians more important than me?When Mr Morrison came out last week and essentially berated and devalued teachers this is a slap in the face for all teachers…. Why are we so expendable?

Owen is referring to Morrison’s public outcry on Facebook, a double standard that Tehan failed to address by merely towing the government line,

the federal government, and all state and territory governments, have been very conscious about the health and welfare of teachers, principals and teacher’s aides right across this nation.’

He went on,

‘…what we’ve done consistently, right throughout this pandemic, is taken the advice of the medical expert panel. Now, that medical expert panel is made up of the chief medical officers from all state and territories and the Commonwealth chief medical officer.’

Medical officers that as we know, are not consistent in opinion that asymptomatic children can transmit. Why aren’t parliamentarians being forced to sit when our seemingly ‘expendable’ teachers are?

What can we take from this? For the foreseeable future, or until the situation changes and back to school is a viable and safe option for all, stay home.

Students that have the necessary technology to remote learn should unequivocally continue to do so; those that don’t, or have essential business parents, or are vulnerable, should go to school. But I implore those that do, keep your teachers at the forefront of your minds, the health risks they are taking to ensure your education is unaffected are heroic. Protect them, like they are protecting you, or your children’s education.

*Editors Note:

Monday’s (27th of April) Q+A episode detailed how Australian education has changed in the age of COVID-19.

In particular, a significant portion of the discussion focused on:

  • How best to look after our Year 12’s during the most important schooling year of their lives.
  • How remarkably effective our teachers have been in assisting their students remotely.
  • How difficult parents are finding managing home-schooling.

3 blogs from The SeeThrough Insider discuss these issues at length. Click on the links below and take some time to hear the thoughts of our contributors in this troubling time.

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