SAVE OUR SCHOOLKIDS
Pools & beaches are Qld's lifeblood, yet our swim safety regime is lethally outdated. We must fix it. For dear life
SWIMMING – it’s so deep in our DNA that our problem is almost unthinkable.
Somehow, in a sun-drenched state with world-famous beaches, backyards dotted with pools and rivers running like veins through our regions, we’ve developed a lethal complacency – breeding generations of children aged between five and 14 who lack crucial survival skills. Once a leader in safeguarding kids against drowning, lifesavers and leading experts warn Queensland now lags dangerously behind other states, which have made swimming lessons compulsory in primary schools.
Today, in an Australian-first campaign, The NewsMail and 45 sister papers take a stand for our kids by calling on the State Government to fund compulsory certified swim programs in the state’s primary schools.
QUEENSLAND children are leaving primary school unable to swim, because they are not being taught the basic survival skills needed to keep themselves safe in the water.
Despite the Sunshine State’s abundance of coastline, backyard pools, rivers and dams, Queensland has fallen behind other states in teaching our kids how to swim.
Today The Bundaberg News-Mail and 45 other News Queensland publications – with the backing of major bodies such as the Australian Water Safety Council, Royal Life Saving Society Australia and Surf Life Saving Queensland and leading Olympians – are beginning an S.O.S. campaign to “Save Our Schoolkids”.
Experts warn the decline in swimming ability is creating a generation of Queensland kids who can’t swim to save themselves, and they have called for immediate action to prevent a rise in drownings and sea rescues.
Our campaign is calling for compulsory, certified swim and water safety lessons in Queensland primary schools.
Students would have to meet a set benchmark – including swimming 50m, treading water for two minutes and recognising potential dangers – as part of the program.
Australian Water Safety Council convenor Justin Scarr said more action was urgently needed to curtail child drownings and incidents.
Mr Scarr said most states and territories, including Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, NSW, and more recently, Victoria, had implemented school-based programs.
Victoria introduced compulsory lessons this year, requiring all primary school students to pass a Victorian Water Safety Certificate, after receiving a $9.15m funding boost from its state government.
Mr Scarr said Queensland was dragging the chain when it came to certified programs.
“Queensland has somewhat taken it (swimming ability among kids) for granted,’’ he said.
“The assumption is Queenslanders can swim before they walk because it is such an ideal environment for swimming … the water is part of everyday life for many people in the state.’’
Mr Scarr said the reality was much different and an increas ing number of children did not have the ability to survive in the water.
Surf Life Saving Queensland chief George Hill said the growing number of young people getting into trouble in the ocean had alarmed volunteers and lifeguards.
“We are seeing more and more young people unable to cope in the water and in this state, which offers a yearround swimming environment, it’s imperative we give them the skills and knowledge to stay safe,’’ Mr Hill said.
“We have made the state government aware of our concerns and we need to act now to prevent fatalities in the future.”
Education Queensland said swimming and water safety lessons were encouraged but not compulsory or benchmarked.
State government funding is available for pool hire and transport costs, but lessons are at the principal’s discretion and sometimes part of health and physical education classes.
“The decision will depend on the school context and availability of appropriate resources,’’ a spokesman said.
Mr Scarr said many parents were diligent in sending kids aged up to four or five to lessons, but then stopped as the family focus often turned to soccer, football or netball.
“As a consequence, we are seeing children losing the chance to develop the swim-
WE NEED TO ACT NOW TO PREVENT FATALITIES IN THE FUTURE. SLSQ CHIEF GEORGE HILL
ming and survival skills that previous generations enjoyed.
“Cost of lessons can be an issue and it can be a case of the haves and have nots. There is also an assumption that schools will take over the responsibility for developing these essential skills.’’
Mr Scarr said the targeting of children during primary years was “absolutely critical’’, because they needed to learn the vital skills before their teenage years when they ventured into waterways without being under the watchful eyes of parents.
“For us, it makes sense to start in Year 2 and 3 otherwise we risk leaving it too late. There needs to be a commitment and it has to happen urgently,” Mr Scarr said.
Royal Life Saving Society Australia recently hosted a World Health Organization conference attended by seven countries from the Asia-Pacific region.
The conference was advised that governments had to intervene to ensure swimming and safety programs for children, and primary schools were promoted as the best place to roll out initiatives.
Parent surveys have identified cost as the major barrier to swimming lessons.
Senior instructors say prices range from $16 and $20 with discounts offered for multiple visits or siblings. Most families opt for one session a week, with about 20 per cent paying for two.
The Catholic and independent school sectors said many of their schools offered water safety and swimming lessons.
Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said while swimming was not mandated in the curriculum, most independent schools ran programs.
“Queensland independent schools recognise the importance of educating students about water safety and supporting them to be proficient swimmers,” Mr Robertson said.