NewsMail - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Hall and Daniel Knowles

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-


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.

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