School Swimming Shame
2/12/2010 10:58 PM
As reported recently in the media, it is estimated by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia that nearly 1 in 5 children will leave Australian Primary Schools in a few weeks time without the required aquatic skills to swim 50m and unable to perform basic survival and water safety techniques that could potentially save their lives.
This statistic means that over 50,000 of our children aged 11 to 12 lack fundamental swimming and water safety skills, and comes on the back of news that a high school in Melbourne has cancelled its swimming sports because not enough students know how to swim.
With aquatic activities at the heart of our national identity and lifestyle – when and how did we start neglecting to educate our Aussie kids on the basics of learning to swim safer? Does the responsibility to ensure our kids are taught swim safer skills lie with parents, our schools, or with our governments?
The growth in the numbers of children under 5 years of age being taught at private swimming complexes is increasing, and this is testament to the wonderful educational offerings within our swim school communities, and to the commitment of parents of pre-school aged children to having their child commence the learn-to-swim process.
However, many parents mistakenly believe that swim education - a vital component of a child’s development -continues within the school curriculum. Swim schools see a significant drop off in the numbers of school-aged enrolees. Once a child reaches the age of about 4, many parents mistakenly begin to rely on what is now seen as failing system.
A progressive decline in the standard of swim and water safety in our school system has been occurring over a number of years. Research carried out across all states, including Qld, has identified a number of factors contributing to this drop in swimming standards. These include a lack of a set curriculum and an absence of any guidelines in respect of the swim standards a primary-school aged children should be expected to attain, decreased funding, and a lack of ongoing professional development for teachers and supervisors of school aquatic programs.
Some sections of the community miss out completely on school-based swim-safer lessons. Primary education facilities without pools or in low socio-economic regions find the costs of swimming lessons with qualified teachers too expensive, and this is especially the case when pool hire/access, staff hire, bus hire and equipment are weighed up against decreasing levels of participation.
A 2008 study of 3000 primary students showed that only 28% of participants reached minimum
benchmarks for their age in foundation swim skills testing.
While parents who continue to have their child attend swim lessons outside of the school curriculum ought to be congratulated, the expectation that the emphasis of these lessons should be on technique or distance swum in the lesson at the expense of learning safety skills (often seen as unnecessary) is misplaced. Many of these same parents will no doubt remember a time in their own school lives when they complete their “Bronze Star or Medallion” qualifications or similar which required swimming in clothes, diving for deep objects and learning survival strokes and rescues, and so on.
Governments need to develop a plan that works towards a national consistency in the provision of effective aquatic programs for all schools. This should include appropriate teaching and supervision ratios (similar to those aimed at commercial swim schools), adequate training and continual professional development opportunities for our teachers and teacher aides, and a program that provides adequate feedback to parents regarding the aquatic skills acquired by the child. This will help ensure a competent and consistent approach to developing a successful program that caters for all aquatic skill levels.
The establishment of a set curriculum that assists the swim education process, that provides a guide for teachers, educational institutes, governments and parents in respect of swim education, and allows for every child to have continuous access to a school aquatic education program is essential if we are to hope to have our children learn the survival and water safety techniques required to ensure their safety in aquatic environments.
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