SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools
Tim Gilbert: One of the most difficult areas for all governments over the past few months has been education. The Federal Government has consistently said the best place for children is at school with a teacher. Many of the states have had their own views. I caught up with Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan before he headed back to Canberra from his seat in Victoria, and I began by asking him about the Government’s three stage plan to have Australia back up and running.
Dan Tehan: Yeah, look, I think it’s welcome news for all Australians, and it’s a welcome reward for all Australians – for their hard efforts in making sure that they’ve done the right thing, practiced the social distancing, if they’ve had the virus, the self-isolation. And, now, we’ve still got a really, really big job ahead of us. But, that task can begin of rebuilding the economy, which will be equally as important as flattening the curve, when it comes to the pandemic.
Gilbert: When do you think all Australian children will be back in the classroom?
Tehan: My hope all along has been by the end of May or early June. And, what we’ve seen yesterday is that Tasmania have come out and now put a plan in place that will see children resume in the classroom in Tasmania. So, now we have every state and territory committed to a plan to getting those students back into the classroom, apart from Victoria. So, let’s hope Victoria can do it sooner rather than later, because, as we’ve seen, from all the studies and all the research, the longer that, especially, disadvantaged students are away from the classroom, sadly, the bigger the harm to them, in terms of their education and other welfare outcomes. So, if we could have everyone back in the classroom by the end of May, early June, it would just be terrific.
Gilbert: You had a little crack at the Victorian Premier last week, where you conceded you’d overstepped the mark. But, it is a moment of frustration. We are a federation. But, when you’ve got rules all over the place, it’s difficult, because the Federal line hasn’t changed.
Tehan: That’s right. The Federal line has been consistent right the way through. And, that is, that it’s safe for children to be at school, and it’s safe for teachers to be at school, with the right protocols in place. And, when you hear the personal stories of the impact that it’s having on kids, being away from school – their mental health, when it comes to Indigenous youth who have those programs at school which help them understand the importance of education, what it does to rural and remote students who don’t have that ability to access the Internet like others – it’s those stories which does make your frustration grow. So, I’m really, really hopeful that we can put the kids first, and understand how important that face-to-face teaching in the classroom is for them, we can get all our children back to school by the end of May, early June.
Gilbert: Did you have a gentle phone call with Dan Andrews on the phone?
Tehan: No, look, I haven’t spoken to the Premier. I’ve always got on well with the Premier. We both love our golf. So, I’m sure we’ll catch up some time soon, and hopefully we might even be able to play nine holes.
Gilbert: I’d like to be in that four-ball actually, particularly for the first couple of holes, that would be good fun. Look, in all seriousness, there’s a direct link with getting children back to school and the economy, isn’t there?
Tehan: That’s right. That’s the other important part of it. We know, and especially for women, for their participation in the workplace, it’s absolutely vital that we get the children back to school. I know that all parents have done a terrific job, as best they can, in balancing the workload and educating their students online. And, so, it is important, if we’re going to grow the economy, if we’re going to make sure that we don’t have that lagging unemployment in regions, in particular areas, then it’s absolutely vital that we get the students back to school.
Gilbert: I worked out very quickly that I am not cut out to be a school teacher. I’ve got three children at school age. Both my wife and I work. It is difficult. You’ve got your own school aged children. Can you give parents and grandparents watching the interview a sense of the challenges your family has faced through this period?
Tehan: Well, look, I think all of us have got a newfound respect for teachers, and I think that’s been one of the real positives that’s come out of this pandemic. And, there isn’t a lot of positives, but I think that that is. I’ve faced issues like I think every family has. But, my focus has been on those students who really need to be in the classroom, those that are really going to suffer. There’s about two million children who potentially will suffer if we can’t get that continuity of education. And, for my children, the biggest thing for them has been they want to re-engage and get back with their friends. That’s the thing that they’ve missed the most. And, I’m sure your children have been the same, and children right around Australia. The friendships, those peer relationships that they have, they’ve missed that. And, it’s so important, not only to their education, but their overall wellbeing, and who they’ll be as individuals as they grow up. Because, we all want those friends – and I’m sure you’re the same, Tim – those friends that you make at school are the ones that are with you for life, and really help you be who you are as a person.
Gilbert: Absolutely. And, we’re both sports lovers – and I’m going to ask you about your love of thoroughbred racing, because I have it as well – but, what about getting them back to sport? Getting them back to footy and to netball and to soccer? Because, that is so important. It was such a soundtrack of my childhood.
Tehan: You’re dead right, absolutely dead right. We’ve got to do that, as well. One of the easings of the restrictions will enable gatherings of 10, and, as the PM said in his press conference on Friday, hopefully that’ll enable the children to get down to the local park and have a scratch match – whether it’s rugby league, Aussie rules or soccer – and really start to get back engaging in those sporting activities that they love so much. And, for the girls, obviously, throwing the netball, kicking the footy or doing the soccer ball, as well. So, it’s really important that we get that in place. And, my hope is, if we can keep flattening that curve, we’ll be able to make rapid progress in responding to easing these restrictions. It will just be so wonderful for our kids. And, as someone – and I’m sure as parents all around Australia – as someone who just loves kids and wants to make sure that they will be the future of our nation, I think all of us are hoping and wishing that they can get out there, play that sport, do those community activities, and engage in that education.
Gilbert: Yeah, and get that normality back. Look, we’re done for time, but I really appreciate you coming on the show. It’s a Saturday and it’s races and you love horses. You’ve had good horses, as well. Tell me a little bit about it, because it’s in your blood as well, isn’t it?
Tehan: It is. Look, my uncle’s a bookmaker. My grandfather, who started working in the old post office and then got into milk bars and pubs, he had horses. He raced a couple with my mother. And, I’ve had one very good jumper, a horse called Wells, was an absolutely superb horse, never ever said he could be beaten. He just always, always tried, and he ended up being one of Australia’s great jumps horses. So, it’s a terrific sport. And, I must say, and I’ll end on this note, wasn’t it terrific that the Queen, when she rang the Prime Minister, she commended Australia that we’ve been able to keep horse racing going through this. I just thought that was a terrific note, to have that message from the Queen, for all of us who love the races.
Gilbert: Absolutely, and of course the Queen used to contact Chris Waller during the run of Winx. We just saw a bit of Wells there. Congratulations. Nothing like owning a very good one, because we’ve all had ones that aren’t quite fast enough. But, have a great weekend. Thanks for coming on Weekend Edition. I really appreciate it.
Tehan: Been a pleasure, Tim. And, all the best to you and your family.