SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Message to teachers, Higher Education Relief Package
Kylie Gillies: Well, for more we’re joined by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Welcome back to the show, Minister.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you.
Gillies: Why did the Prime Minister release this message today?
Tehan: Well, he wanted to send a message to all those teachers out there who’ll be teaching our children – whether it be in the classroom or whether it be online – a message of thanks, just to say how important your role is during this pandemic. There’s going to be a lot that we suffer from over the next six months. But, the Prime Minister has been incredibly firm that he wants to ensure that our children don’t suffer from losing their education during this time. And, it was a big shout out to all those teachers, just to say a very big thanks, on behalf of the nation, for the important role you’re playing during this pandemic.
Larry Emdur: And, don’t they need that huge pat on the back right now. We’re told, Minister, the medical advice from experts is that schools are safe. Yet, we know states are moving to remote learning. Why are leaders ignoring the Federal, the advice of the Federal Government?
Tehan: Well, each state and territory are putting in their own response, they have the jurisdictional responsibility. But, everyone is being consistent in ensuring that where parents need to work, then the schools are open. Or, for vulnerable children, the schools remain open. So, that has been the consistent position right across the nation, and, then, every state and territory have been acting according to their jurisdictional responsibility. In the NT, the schools will remain open, and they want students to go to school. In WA, all the signs are that they will take a similar approach. Victoria and New South Wales are taking a different approach, but, they are, importantly, making sure the schools are open for those parents who need to work, and for those vulnerable children. And, that’s why the Prime Minister wanted to shout out to all those teachers who’ll be at school just doing a wonderful job, on behalf of our nation, or those who’ll be teaching our children online during the next few weeks.
Gillies: And, we absolutely understand why the schools have to be open for those kids of people who are on the frontline. Totally get that. And, the message from those leaders, is that, if your child can learn from home, they should. Totally get that, too. But, just as we move forward, and the weeks turn into months, how realistic, Minister, is it for the average Australian family to be having – their high school kids, I can kind of get, they are a little bit more self-sufficient – but, for those kids in infant school and primary school, how realistic is this, for the average Australian family, for the kids to still be home?
Tehan: Look, it’s going to be a real challenge. And, that’s why we’re imploring all Australians to do the right thing, so we can flatten this curve. And, one of the first things we’d love to be able to do, if we can flatten the curve, is reopen our schools for all students, so they can go back and get back into that continuity of learning that we know produces the excellent results for our children. We’re not there at this moment. So, we need to just be patient, work with our schools, work with our teachers, work with our principals. But, our hope is, if we can continue on this trajectory, then the schools will be one of the first things that we’ll be able to say, ‘Right, we want to get normality.’ And, it might, we might be able to start by saying, to those Year 12 students, you can start going back to class. And, then, to those, you know, those kids in grade one or prep, that you can start going back. Those who need to do a vocational part of their study, whether it woodwork, mechanics, they might be able to go back and start doing that practical side of their courses. So, if we can keep flattening the curve, our hope is, we’ll be able to get our schools open for everyone, sooner rather than later, right across the nation.
Emdur: Minister, parents who have no choice are feeling guilty, many of them, for sending their kids to school. They need to hear from you right now on this. What’s your message to them?
Tehan: Don’t feel guilty. You are playing a vital part in helping our nation get through this pandemic. If you have to work – whether it be in an aged care facility, whether it be changing tyres so that trucks can deliver the goods to the supermarkets, whether it be our nurses, our doctors – we need you concentrating on what you’re doing. And, if that means that your children are safer at school, then, the schools are open, and you should be able to send your kids there, knowing that that is the right thing for you to do. Because, you are so vital for us dealing with this pandemic.
Gillies: There are some reports circulating, that if private or Independent schools choose to close in term two, close their doors completely, they’re at risk of the Federal Government cutting vital funding. Is that the case?
Tehan: We have now made it a condition for Independent schools that they must remain open for those children of those who will be working on the frontline in helping us deal with this pandemic, and for those vulnerable children. We think that it’s fair that government schools remain open, Catholic schools remain open, and Independent schools remain open, for all those parents and all those children who need to be attending school.
Emdur: So, would it come to funding cuts?
Tehan: Well, we’ve made it a condition of their funding. We don’t want it to get to that stage. What we’re hoping, and, from everything that I’m seeing, all Independent schools understand how important it is. They’re doing the right thing, and that’s great. So, we just wanted to make sure that they understood how important the Government considered this approach to be, of making sure schools are open for those parents who are working, or for those vulnerable children. And, I’m sure that, now, every Independent school will do the right thing.
Gillies: In the Prime Minister’s latest address, he addressed teacher safety. It’s a big issue. Let’s take a quick look at the Prime Minister.
Scott Morrison: The issue in our schools relates to the safety, principally, of teachers. And, we know that some teachers are in a high-risk category themselves, and they need to be protected against. The workplace they are in needs to protect them.
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Gillies: So, earlier this week, we did see the teachers’ unions pushing back against a return to classroom teaching. Do you think the safety of school staff is being taken into account?
Tehan: It is. And, we’ve had the medical expert panel – the national medical expert panel, which has the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth, and all the state and territory chief medical officers on it – we’ve had them give some advice, and we’ve asked them to continue to give advice around teacher safety, because that’s incredibly important, as well. And, so, they’ve made recommendations, which now all states and territories are abiding by. And, we will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that it is safe for our teachers to be in the classroom, teaching our children.
Emdur: Okay. We’re going to talk about higher learning now. The Federal Government will be asking providers to develop courses for their staffers to upskill, based on, sort of, local community needs. So, help us understand who will benefit from this.
Tehan: So, anyone who’s had their life turned upside down by the coronavirus, we want them to be able to look at reskilling, or maybe deciding on a change of career, during the coronavirus pandemic. So, we’ve put in place these short courses – and they’re a diploma short course and then there’s a graduate short course – in national priority areas, in teaching, in nursing, in agriculture, in counselling, and science, maths, English, there’s languages. All these areas, that we know are going to be incredibly important for us as we come out of the pandemic. So, those people, who want to, can enrol for one of these courses. They’ll be six months, and it’s a great way for you to reskill during the pandemic. So, instead of watching Netflix or doing too much gardening, you’ve got the opportunity to re-skill, so that you, then, will be in one of the areas where we need workers, as we come out of this pandemic. And, we’re already seeing that we’re going to see strong economic growth on the other side of this pandemic, so, we want to make sure, that all those people who might have been displaced as a result of the pandemic, have the opportunity to reskill, so they can be part of our economy as we come out of the pandemic.
Gillies: Okay. Minister, as we say goodbye, what’s the next date that we need to keep an eye on? We know Victoria is back today. Queensland next week. New South Wales the week after that. We’ve seen Queensland schools have circled May 22 as the date that school wouldn’t be resuming until, at least, then, but, maybe even longer. What’s the next date that, maybe, parents need to keep an eye on?
Tehan: Well, for each state and territory, it’ll be a little bit different. But, what we’re hoping, is, in four weeks’ time, we will be able to reassess, and have a look at where we’re at. And, if everybody has done their part in flattening the curve, hopefully we’ll be able to have another discussion about, okay, what we can do to get more happening in our classrooms, in Victoria, in New South Wales, and Queensland. Obviously, in the NT it’s different, because it’s normal class there for people in the NT. Western Australia, majority will be done in the classroom. So, it’ll vary state and territory. But, our hope is, we’ll start to see a more nationally consistent approach to getting students back into the classroom in the next 3 to 4 weeks.
Gillies: So, sit tight until then. Okay. Thank you so much, Minister.
Emdur: Thanks Minister. I’m glad you said instead of watching Netflix …
Tehan: … Pleasure to be with you …
Emdur: … not, instead of watching The Morning Show. Okay. We appreciate your time.
Gillies: That is essential viewing. Yeah.
Emdur: Yeah. You must watch Morning Show. Don’t watch Netflix.