SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Message to teachers
Joe O’Brien: Okay, the Education Minister Dan Tehan – the Federal Education Minister – is holding a media conference now. Let’s take a listen in.
Dan Tehan: ... important message to all our teachers, and that message is a very, very big thank you for the role that you’re playing to help us get through this pandemic. It is absolutely vital that our students get the best education that they possibly can during the next four, six weeks, during the next three months, during the next six months, for, however long it takes, for us to flatten the curve. And, the role that our teachers are going to play during this is going to be vital. Because, without them fronting up to our classrooms and making sure that they’re looking after those students whose parents have to work, or those vulnerable students, or without them being able to provide that tuition online for those students who have been asked to stay at home, without that role, our children won’t get that continuity of learning that they need. So, the PM has sent a big shout-out to our teachers. And, can I say to all the parents out there, right across our nation, as school begins to resume for term two – it is happening in Victoria this week, it will happen in Queensland and the NT next week, and various states and territories will then roll into the second term – when you’re engaging with your principal, when you’re engaging with the teachers, please stop and say a big thanks to them for the role that they are playing, because we do not want our children’s education to suffer during this pandemic. I’m happy to take any questions.
Journalist: Minister, how are you going to protect the health of teachers who are, obviously, you know, quite scared about going back into the environment? How would you protect their health?
Tehan: So, the medical expert panel – which is the panel which is made up of the Chief Medical Officer from the Commonwealth, and all the state and territory chief medical officers – has already given guidance to schools about making sure that we look after the safety of our teachers. And, they’re continuing to monitor that, and to provide that guidance. So, some of the things that they’ve suggested have been extra sanitiser at schools, extra washing of hands, having lunchtime breaks done at different times for different cohorts, if there are teachers who are 65 years or older, giving them a different role which doesn’t involve teaching in the classroom – and they’re going to continue to monitor this on a daily basis.
Journalist: Minister, regarding the messaging coming out, our parents are a little bit confused, as some states are saying, ‘Look, keep your kids home, and, as much as necessary, stay home.’ Prime Minister’s urging for schools to open back up. Is it fair that people are going to be confused about what’s safe? What’s going to happen? What they should do with their kids – keep them home or send them to school?
Tehan: So, there’s been a very consistent message right across the nation and, that is, if parents need to work, or for vulnerable students, you should be attending school. And, that’s been adopted by all the states and territories. Now, there are obviously different approaches within that in different jurisdictions, and states and territories, ultimately, have the final decision with what happens with their schools in their state or territory. But, the clear message is, for all those parents who are working, and they can’t look after their children safely at home, schools are open, and your students can attend school. For all those vulnerable children, school’s open, and you can attend school. Can I say, too, to all those parents who are out there working, please do not feel guilty about sending your students to school. You are playing a vital role in helping our economy, to helping our society get through this. You are playing a vital role in us dealing with this pandemic. So, we want you to be able to safely know that your children are getting the education that they want at school, because school’s open for you while you’re working. And, also for those children – whether they be from low socio-economic parts of society, or whether they be vulnerable children – if a parent thinks that child is safer at school than at home, then we want the schools being opened for them, as well.
Journalist: You don’t want the quality of education to be compromised. Can you really, really make sure that it won’t be compromised, given that there’ll be some teachers that won’t be able to teach? There might be an at-risk group, that there’ll be some kids at home having online delivery, some kids at school that need teacher’s support. This doesn’t sound like something where we can absolutely have the same level of quality in education that we would have in a normal situation.
Tehan: Well, of course it’s not going to be the same. But, we want our children to get the best opportunity they possibly can to learn through this pandemic. And, that’s why all state and territory education ministers, all premiers, chief ministers, are so, so focused on ensuring that we’re going to get that continuity of education for our children through this. And, that’s why we want to make sure, in particular for those children of people who need to be working, for those vulnerable children, that they’re getting the opportunity for their students to be able to safely study and learn in a school environment.
Journalist: Australia’s cases have been declining for the last couple of weeks. Why not keep schools shut for a few more weeks, until cases have declined even further?
Tehan: Well, because, what we want to ensure is that, as best we can, our children get that continuity of education, that continuity of learning. And, we don’t want them missing out on an education as we deal with this pandemic. As the PM said, this pandemic’s taking a lot from a lot of people, but we do not want it to take away our children’s education.
Journalist: How concerned are you about the impact, potentially, already, on the vulnerable kids who may disengage from the system?
Tehan: Well, that is one of our great concerns. We want to make sure that those children don’t suffer as a result of this pandemic. We want to make sure that the schools are open, so that they can go and get that education that they need. Because, if there is three or four children in a home, there’s only one computer, that can get very trying, very tough, in terms of being able to provide that continuity of education. In many regional and rural settings where there, it just isn’t possible to learn online. The NT, there are some parts where you cannot deliver online learning. So, we want to make sure that our schools are open for those children. And, I know, that’s what state and territory leaders also want to see, because, none of us want to see those children, in particular, suffer as a result of this pandemic.
O’Brien: Okay, so that was live from Parliament House in Canberra. The Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan speaking there about the importance of teachers through this coronavirus pandemic.