Monday, 23 March 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for his question. This is a matter that has been the focus of a lot of my attention. The coronavirus crisis will take many things from this country, but one of the things that I am determined that it will not take is a year of learning from our children. This has been a key focus of the discussions of the national cabinet, ministers of education at the state level and, of course, here—and I acknowledge the Minister for Education. The arrangements that were put in place by the national cabinet last night were that schools should remain open. The advice says very clearly that the AHPPC does not support closure of schools at this time. They advise that there is no health reason for schools to be closed or for children not to go to schools. I want to make that very clear: your children are safe to go to school, on the basis of the medical advice that has been provided to the national cabinet.
Two arrangements have been put in place for those students. Students can present at school and undergo their normal learning in classrooms in the way that it is conducted. The other way that many schools are looking at is to provide distance learning opportunities for those students who are at home. Whether the parents choose for their children to go to school or to remain at home, the children must be learning in either place. That is the absolute position of our government in supporting the states and territories under the existing funding arrangements that we have.
I agree with those who have said that teachers are not childminders; they are teachers. I want kids to go to school to learn and to be taught, not to be minded, and I want them to have classes in those places. I know that they are best positioned to learn when they go into a learning environment like that. We must sustain this for as long as is possible, subject to the health advice. That's why I have urged that we take the position to ensure that schools remain open, subject to that health advice.
I want to thank the teachers and I want to thank everyone who works in the school communities—the principals and others—who have been under enormous pressure, based on the various positions that have been commentated on around the country. They are making the best decisions they can, and I know that they are putting their students and their education first. I want to assure parents that we are doing exactly the same thing. We are going to be working closely with state and territory governments to ensure that children's education is protected, including early childhood education. You don't get to be four years old in another year. That year of your learning is very important, whether you are four or six or 10 or 16.
I'd also say to parents who choose to keep their children at home that they are at home for the purpose of learning, they are not home for the purpose of just running around and doing whatever they like. The decision to take children home from school and to keep them at home is intended to enable them to continue their learning at home. I would encourage parents to take the responsibility of that decision, as every parent has to, very seriously.