SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Economy
Peter Gleeson: Well, some states have started the transition back to classrooms for face-to-face learning this week. Joining me now, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Minister, thanks for joining us tonight on Sky News Across Australia. You must have been relieved to hear Dan Andrews’ comments today that Victorian students were finally getting back into the classroom?
Dan Tehan: Yeah. It was great news for Victorian students, and it now means that every state and territory, across the nation, has a plan to get back to that face-to-face teaching in the classroom, that we all know is so important to the educational wellbeing and the social wellbeing of children right across this nation. We set ourselves the goal to try and have every state and territory undertaking face-to-face teaching by the end of May. It’ll be early June. So, I think, as a nation, we can take a big bow. Because, not only will we have flattened the curve, but we will have provided, as best we can, that continuity of education through this pandemic, as well.
Gleeson: Minister, I want to talk to you about that. We have flattened the curve. As a senior Cabinet Minister, you must be incredibly buoyed and happy about the fact that the health implications for Australia have been a lot different to other countries. But, also, back in March, when we were considering just how bad this could be. You must be incredibly happy about the fact that school kids, as you say, most of them in Australia, will be back by early June?
Tehan: Look, it is a wonderful achievement. When you think about it, we thought that this pandemic, the impact on us and our way of life, would at least be six months. Now, the expert medical advice kept telling us right away through the last two months, that it was safe for children to be at school, and it was safe for teachers to be at school, with the right protocols in place. We had school holidays during the last two months, and now we’re going to see all school children back in the classroom by early June. So, it is a wonderful achievement. And, it’s not only schools. Because, we’ve also been able to achieve, I think, an even better result in early childhood education, with the child care sector, because we’ve been able to keep our child care sector up and running, as well. 98 per cent of services were open today, and we’ve been able to provide for those younger Australians, that ability for them to be able to get that care and early childhood education, as well. So, when you think of where we were in March, and where we are now, we, I think, as a nation, we’ve achieved something that we all should be really proud of. Because, we’ve flattened the curve, and really kept a focus on ensuring young Australians get that continuity of education they need.
Gleeson: And, now is the big challenge, around the economy. And, we saw today, Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, talk about some of the challenges that exist. Again, as a senior Cabinet Minister, you would be acutely aware of just how much this will hurt us from a fiscal perspective. What do you say to Australians who are watching tonight, as far as those who are in small business, those who are keen to get back into the workforce, who are not there yet? What do you say to them as we go forward? We’re on the bridge, very much on the bridge. How do we get off the bridge and get back to normality?
Tehan: Well, we’ve got to make sure that we continue to flatten the curve. So, we’ve got to make sure that we keep doing the things that we need to do to make sure that the coronavirus doesn’t spread in this nation, that we continue to defeat it. And, at the same time, we’ve got to ease restrictions and breathe life right back into our economy. And, that’s why the economic statement of the Treasurer today was so important, because it sets the pathway for us to do it, it sets the plan for us to do it. And, right through this, under the inspiring leadership of the Prime Minister, we’ve very much had a plan. We’ve had a plan to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. A plan to make sure that we, as best we could, protected our economy, while we were putting the restrictions in place that were needed to be put in place to defeat the coronavirus. And, now we’ve got a plan, an exit plan, to really grow our economy. And, to all those small business owners out there, to all those people who work in small business, we want you to be a key focus of our plan, as we drive economic growth forward. Small business is the absolute engine room of our economy, and we want to make sure that it’s going to be a small business-led recovery, that ensures that our economy grows and gets back to where it was over time. We know big business is important. We know sole traders are important. But, we know small business is the absolute engine room, and that’s where we want to see the inspiration and the growth come from. We want small business to lead us out of this.
Gleeson: Now, we’ve seen most Australian parents get a little bit of a taste of the challenges attached to remote learning, learning from home, and tutoring their kids from that home environment. What are the challenges that exist in this country right now, when it comes to remote learning?
Tehan: Well, I think we’ve learnt some lessons from remote learning, i.e. that it’s a good thing for when students are ill. It’s a good thing when people can’t get access to the classroom, for whatever reason. But, I think we’ve also learnt that, in the end, that face-to-face teaching is absolutely vital, and all the research has demonstrated that. As a matter of fact, what it was showing was that if remote learning had of continued, up to two million Australian students would have suffered as a result of their education, and, as well as their emotional wellbeing. And, the people who would have been impacted the most were students with a disability, Indigenous students, rural and remote students. I represent a rural electorate. That’s why I was so passionate about wanting to get students back in the classroom, and getting that face-to-face teaching. Because, it’s those disadvantaged students who would have suffered the most. So, we’ve learnt that it’s good for certain things, and in certain situations. But, nothing can replace face-to-face teaching. And, that’s why, from the Prime Minister down, the Federal Government has been so keen to get teachers back in the classroom, and students back in the classroom.
Gleeson: Dan Tehan, Federal Education Minister, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Much appreciated.
Tehan: Gleeso, pleasure to be with you.