SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Message to teachers
Narelda Jacobs: As the new school term begins in Victoria, the Prime Minister has appealed to teachers to return to their classrooms, as the country deals with the ongoing threat of coronavirus. Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, thanks for your time. There are a lot of voices here, making it very confusing. We have state education ministers saying one thing, we have school principals possibly saying another, and now the PM is weighing in, telling teachers not to stand in the way of parents being able to put food on the table. Minister, is it best for Canberra just to butt out, and leave it up to local authorities?
Dan Tehan: Well, the position of the Federal Government and the Prime Minister has been consistent all along, and, that is, that we want schools to be open. So, for those parents who need to go to work and can’t have their children looked after safely, or for those vulnerable children, they can go and get that continuity of learning. And, every state and territory has signed up to that, and, that’s why, in Victoria, schools will be open, so that those parents who need to work can send their children to school, and those vulnerable children will be able to attend school. And, then, of course, there will be different approaches taken around the country, as to how the state and territory governments implement that. So, for instance, the Northern Territory, where there isn’t the possibility for them to be able to do remote learning or online learning, they’re going to make sure that their schools remain open, and they want all students to be going to school. And, unless you’ve got a valid excuse as to why your child shouldn’t be at school, then, children need to go to school. Western Australia are going to have their classrooms open for classroom teaching. So, we’ll see, depending on the pandemic, different approaches to different state and territories. But, what the PM was saying was a very big thank-you to our teachers at this time, because they are playing such an important role in making sure that our children get that continuity of learning.
Jacobs: Okay. Minister, if we look at vulnerable students – I think we understand children of essential workers, an essential worker is anyone who can’t do their work from home – but, if we look at the vulnerable students, that, surely, is such a broad description. What students are vulnerable? Does it include students who have special needs, who may need one-on-one assistance?
Tehan: So, obviously, when it comes to special needs, when it comes to those situations where a parent might decide that it’s safer that the child is at school than at home, it might depend on an inability for a parent to be able to properly teach all their children at home. It might be that they’ve only got one digital device and, therefore, it’s just not possible for all those kids to get the learning that they need. And, in all those instances, parents should approach their schools, talk to their principals, because we want to make sure that that continuity of learning is there for those vulnerable children.
Jacobs: Well, Minister, talking about digital devices. Victoria, for example, have given iPads, to make sure each student has Internet access. Is that a role for the Federal Government to provide those sort of resources for every student in Australia?
Tehan: Well, the Victorian State Government have done that, but there are still parts of Victoria where the connectivity isn’t great. And, so, those devices, children won’t be able to learn like the other students might be in the city. So, these are things that, obviously, ultimately, state and territory governments will take responsibility for – about the type of learning and the tools of learning that they will provide, and we’ll let them do that. What we want to do is get a nationally consistent approach as to who can attend school, and making sure that schools are open right across the nation, especially for those parents who have to work and those vulnerable children.
Jacobs: Well, Minister, finally, if it’s safe for schools to stay open, when will Parliament resume?
Tehan: So, Parliament is set to resume in August. So, but, as we saw, we’ve seen already, we’ve already had two days when we’ve sat. So, but, at this stage, it’s due to resume in August again.
Jacobs: Thank you very much. Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.